2013: An Improv Odyssey
ALISHAH SHARIFF happily has her (rather negative) preconceptions of improv turned on their head.
King’s Bunker, 28th February – 3rd March, 8pm, £3/2 Kings’ Students
Corpus Playroom 4th Mar, 9.30pm, £6/5
Until last night, I was unfamiliar with both King’s Bunker and improvised comedy. As it turns out, I was pleasantly surprised by both.
From the offset, it was clear that we as the audience would be made to feel valued, especially in our role as the future crew of a spaceship, receiving a hologram-assisted history lesson from a wonderfully charismatic commander (Jed Rose). The show that followed, crafted both by audience suggestion and the genuine ingenuity of the cast, saw us following the epic journey of two arch-nemeses across lands as diverse as Azerbaijan and Mexico, to witness a final showdown on a battlefield of human excrement. There was however nothing shit about the performance.
The Impronauts certainly reversed my preconception of improv being stilted and reliant on rehearsed situations; indeed the best element of the performance was the sense of genuine spontaneity and recourse to the imagination. Audience suggestions were not readily discarded, and often became the fuel for many a running joke. Improvisation of lines is an admirable feat, but the cast went the extra mile by improvising songs, which acted as re-caps of the storyline that had been unfolding. These comical interludes served to keep things snappy, also helping us revisit what we had just seen and thereby aiding the progression of the story line.
All cast members put in solid and noteworthy performances. Alex Klein remained an endearing and entertaining character throughout, responding particularly aptly to Jed Rose’s demands for flashbacks to his Mexican past with his wonderfully Americanized Spanglish, which cleverly parodied national stereotypes. Alan Beaumont responded particularly well to the constantly changing scenarios he sought to engage with, which he did with a wonderful physicality and ability to portray death in creative and distinct ways, combined with his odd aptitude for making strangely inhuman sounds.
Donna Kitching tended to fade into the background slightly more than the other characters, but her contributions were always entertaining, especially as a lowly minion and the evil part of Klein’s conscience. Chris Smowton delivered some great lines, his absurd and recurrent interjections of bricklayer humor being particularly welcomed by the audience.
My main criticism would be that despite his wonderful sense of presence and charm, not to mention his skills on the keyboard, Jed Rose orchestrated a few too many flashbacks and flash-forwards. This unnecessarily complicated the story line at times, making things confusing for both the actors and the audience in the latter part of the performance. Whilst generally the improv seemed to tailor itself to the threads which the audience responded best to, occasionally Jed kept going with threads that weren’t as strong. However, the superimposition of different time zones and plotlines did add diversity and pace to the performance: it was never boring.
Whilst I felt that the group did well to interact with the limited space and almost complete lack of props, it would have been nice to see the actors have a bit more awareness of where they were on the stage. Occasionally they blocked each other out or were standing in awkward positions, often ending up too close to the back of the stage when it would have been nice to have them closer to the front, especially given the intimacy of the setting.
Despite these minor flaws, both the audience and I greatly enjoyed the performance, and I highly recommend seeing it if you fancy both a chuckle and the chance to see some truly talented people make a lot out of very little.