For those who don't catch the latest theatre press, some background: avant-garde theatre director (and artistic director of the Lyric Hammersmith) Sean Holmes announced a new season of work at his venue under the title Secret Theatre three months ago, in which he hoped to defeat the "corrupting" influence of our current theatre model and stop the current trend for interpreting work too "literally".

In a nutshell, this is Holmes railing against the British predilection with naturalism: trying to recreate a realistic environment where the actions happening on stage could be happening in real life. It used to be that British (and American) commercial theatre was very focused on this style of performance, although the influence of post-modern theatre (where creating what would be really happening on stage is anathema) has had some nice ripples, and I personally feel that our current climate is very open to less naturalistic performance.

But apparently, no, it's a big problem – so big that Holmes drew together a company of talented actors, directors, writers, designers, etc. and created Secret Theatre, which would focus on creating a new, exciting model of British theatre.

At least, that's the marketing blurb – if the first performance is anything to go by, that seems to be all that all of the above has amounted to. The "secret" theatre space within the Lyric (which is currently under refurbishment) is just the Lyric's main stage with some of the seats roped off. The "secret" plays, from the first two shows of the season, are just modern classics. Instead of revitalising British theatre with some new ideas, this feels like a gimmick: and not even an original one (see Secret Cinema).

And the resulting production isn't even anything that special: it is so much a child of Holmes own directing style. Scenes are interpreted non-naturally, but not in an interesting way: this is the same proto-European work Holmes has been extolling the virtues of for years, and the result feels less new and exciting and more old and tired. White walls, actions replaced by different ones (poker-playing with eating watermelon, for example), lots of changing live on stage... I'd be hard-pressed to differentiate this from a student director's first attempts at being "original" and "different".

Even the blind-casting is misjudged: Nadia Albina is a great actress, but ignoring her disability (one of her arms ends at the elbow) emphasises it unnaturally, especially in the context of the play. Casting Adelle Leonce is also a similarly odd decision – the setting for the piece (Southern America, 1940s) emphasises that she's not the traditional Southern Belle in a very uncomfortable way. It's the problem blind-casting always encounters: if the actor doesn't suit a naturalistic performance of the part, it's natural to search for meaning in why they've been cast. What should open up the performance becomes deeply inhibiting.

This new grand scheme has stumbled at the first hurdle. The marketing is crass and the shows don't live up to it, neither in context nor in quality. The shows themselves highlight the problems with non-naturalistic theatre instead of showing how it can work well, and if Holmes spent less time banging his tired old drum he might see that non-naturalistic performance is everywhere – it just integrates better into a concept for the show if there's more there than just "not doing it the same way as everyone else".

The cherry on the top is that this is irrelevant: the show's marketing spiel is working. An errant tweet has sparked "controversy", reported at the highest levels. I should stress here that I have no problem with marketing gimmicks, but there has to be something behind it, a reason for the furore. There's nothing here.

Secret Theatre: Show 2, at Lyric HammersmithChris Hislop reviews Secret Theatre 2 at the Lyric Hammersmith. 1