THE loss of youth and beauty – it’s one of the great themes that has plagued writers and artists over the centuries.

Not least Oscar Wilde, whose classic character Dorian Gray remains eternally youthful with a huge cost to his soul.

Taking Wilde’s novel as their starting point, British-German performance group Gob Squad examine the nature of beauty, vanity and morality in their production Creation (Pictures For Dorian).

“There’s probably a little bit of Dorian in all of us” is one striking line from the show’s blurb.

“We wanted to focus on the idea of the body as capital,” says Sharon Smith down the line from the group’s base in Berlin.

Gob Squad, who have staged work at ACCA a number of times in recent years, have a history of making innovative theatre productions.

They often improvise their performances, using members of the audience to give their productions an extra dimension.

In this case, they will be recruiting six actors – three under the age of 22, three over 75 – a few weeks in advance of their festival show.

The candidates should either have some experience of performing, in the case of the older age group, or aspire to be on the stage, in the case of the younger bracket.

Sharon explains that Creation is partly inspired by the members of God Squad hitting middle age and contemplating youthful vitality and good looks slowly ebbing away.

“We were probably having some kind of crisis,” she laughs.

“I utterly believe that beauty comes from the inside but I do stare at people I find beautiful on the U-Bahn [Berlin rail system],” she adds.

“I want to get close to perfect skin. It’s a fundamental vanity problem.”

Creation is the third of a sort-of trilogy that also included Gob Squad’s shows Close Enough To Kiss and Before Your Very Eyes.

Both of those featured a mirrored box containing the performers, which was either transparent or reflective to the audience depending on the lighting.

“The crowd could only see themselves or see into the box, in which Gob Squad were being creative and hedonistic,” says Sharon.

The box returns for Creation, a fitting metaphor for the “limbo” of arriving at the halfway point of one’s life.

“We wondered what it would be like if we were presented with people that reminded us of ourselves in the past, or who we would like to be in the future,” says Sharon, referring to their volunteers, young and old.

“We’re all about 50, not really looking forward or back. It’s a kind of waiting place – neither here nor there.

“That’s why we were interested in this multi-generational meeting.”

Elaborating on the confusion of middle age, Sharon says that it can be a restricting period compared with life at either end of the age spectrum.

“We’ve talked about it a lot – this middle place seems to be the hardest,” she says.

“You’re experiencing the loss [of beauty and youth]. It’s still there on good days but it’s slipping away before your very eyes.

“When we talk to our older guests, there seems to be a freedom with being older.

“You become relevant again and are unbound by the menopause, which is a drag, it lasts for a decade.

“When you’re on the other side of that you experience a new energy. There’s another chapter waiting to be lived.

“One of the things we want to put across in this show is an older person who has that attitude of not giving a damn about death or ageing of lost youth.”

While we all might worry – or at the least wander – about our advanced years, you suspect that self-consciousness is amplified if you’ve been performing on stage for most of your life. As Sharon says, “your body is your currency” in public performance.

One of the other questions that Gob Squad pose in their description of Creation is: “Who decides what is beautiful?”

They are interested in dissecting the subjectivity of beauty - the old “in the eye of the beholder” chestnut.

In this, they again took inspiration from Wilde’s book – and specifically the relationship between Dorian Gray and Basil Hallward.

“In that triangle there is the subject of the art [Dorian] and the painter [Basil],” says Sharon. “We’re playing with that relationship.”

Anyone who is considering applying to act in Creation – more details of how to get involved will come soon – should know that Gob Squad force their volunteers to act instinctively and think on the spot.

“We always need the guests to be able to be themselves,” says Sharon. “It has to be able to be uncomfortable for that person but something that works in a performance situation.

“We need to provide a way that everything that happens in those live moments is OK, whether it’s just someone saying ‘yes or no’ or answering a question.”

When Sharon says question, she is referring to the spontaneous interviews that the performers will have to answer on stage.

The young and old volunteers may be given moral quandaries such as: “What would you go if you thought you could get away with it?”

Sharon says: “We try and build spaces where no matter who our guest is, we can have an extended interview with them. That will come out of real-time conversations rather than something we dictate beforehand.

“We’re not a didactic group, we don’t want to moralise.

“We would rather talk about these issues in as real a way as possible.”

Having worked with drama students from University Of Sussex before, with successful results, Gob Squad are anticipating a high level of interest from the younger side of the generational scale.

Whether you fancy getting up on stage or merely watching from the auditorium, one thing’s for sure – you won’t ever have seen theatre like this before.

Creation (Pictures For Dorian)

Attenborough Centre For The Creative Arts, Wednesday, May 23, to Saturday 26, 8pm, Sunday 27, 2.30pm,