I'M AN IMPROVISER - GET ME OUT OF HERE!
House of Improv
Michael Pilch Studio Theatre, Jowett Walk, Oxford OX1 3TS
30 January to 2 February 2019
I'm an Improviser – Get Me Out of Here! is the latest show, made up on the night as they go along, from House of Improv. The setting this time was a reality TV show along the lines of Big Brother. The contestants had been in the house for the past six weeks and now we had reached the final evening. Who would be the winner?
But first, just who were the contestants and what was the grand prize? What else would one do in an improvised show but ask the audience? So, before the show began, we all had to scribble down our suggestions and put them in a variety of hats being proffered by cast members.
The prize they were all competing for was to be President of the Moon, and the characters turned out to be Augustus (Emma Hinnells), know as 'Stus' for short. He described himself as having attended a rough, deprived, inner-city London comprehensive called Westminster School. Emma has a gift for bringing cheeky insouciance to her characters and gave us a Stus who was utterly without scruples. A memorable moment was when Stus voted out of the house Sebastian (Eliza McHugh), with whom he'd just that moment been to bed, describing the experience, while standing next to Sebastian, as 'unsatisfying'.
Sebastian the Angry Vegan, to give him his full name, was clearly someone with unresolved issues. He believed that animals were superior to humans, and vegans were superior to the rest of the human race. Eliza's characterisation of Sebastian started angry, but became more desperate and demented as the show went on. This was a ball of uncontrolled energy that raised more than a few laughs.
Then there was Jane Doe (Vidy Reddy) who had lost 'her' memory following an accident. Jane soon decided to change her name to Janice, and fell romantically for Buttercup (Kilian Lohmann), a southern belle from Georgia, USA, whose delicate, high-pitched voice turned into a sinister gravelly roar when she was roused. Kilian is a tall guy, and this clashed in a gloriously comic way with the obviously demure character of Buttercup. I enjoyed the Jekyll and Hyde nature that he brought to the part.
Steve the Dragon (Amy Kennedy) was the online handle of a Dungeons and Dragons fanatic. Steve was the geeky sort of character you'd expect, with a sympathetic naivety about him.
Dave Burns (William Jefferson) was an Australian health and safety guy, obsessed with writing lists, and clearly unable to interact socially, other than through reading out lists and making rules for everyone else. He also proved the ancient Roman adage 'nomen est omen', as he liked to burn things, a disturbing habit that William turned to fine comic use throughout the show. But even Dave found love... with Janice after her split up with Buttercup. Finally, Hannah Williams was the host and presenter of the show. She had the job of interacting with the audience and providing some structure and shape to the performance.
Before getting into the action of the last night in the house, we had a flashback to the contestants' auditions, and yet another flashback to the highlights of the past six weeks. We had the locations you'd expect in a reality show set in a house: the diary room, where frustrated contestants vented their fury at their house mates. The kitchen, where Dave Burns pinned up his list of rules. The jacuzzi, where couples looking for a bit of love action constantly had others walking in on them right in the middle of... Most inventively, there was the Moon Room, a zero-gravity chilling out space. Stus and Sebastian rigged a competitive game in the Moon Room by placing weights in the other contestants' shoes. This cheating provoked Dave Burns to burn their things on a bonfire, assisted by Buttercup, who thereby discovered the joys of pyromania. In the end, Stus became President of the Moon, his ego bloated even more by the utterly undeserved honour!
To expect a well-structured credible plot from impro is asking a bit much, so you won't get it retold by me. It also misses the point about the nature of the form: the comedy often derives from the inspiration of the moment, albeit a practised and rehearsed inspiration, and the chemistry between performers who can play to each others' strengths to produce occasional flashes of comedy magic. Well deserved pats on the back to co-directors Emma Hinnells and Hannah Williams for enabling this collaborative effort. Praise also to Matthew Kemp on keyboard who jollied the whole thing along in the manner of a silent movie accompanist.
The audience clearly enjoyed the show, which succeeded in maintaining its surreal momentum right through its hour and a quarter run. That's no mean achievement with improvised comedy. The danger with this format is that there will be a sag in the energy and inventiveness somewhere in the middle. House of Improv avoided that trap and provided some laugh-out-loud moments for the present writer and his fellow audience members.
About the Author
Mike Lord has been involved with amateur theatre for over twenty years, mainly as an actor but also, more recently, as a director.
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