The Importance of Being Improvised

LOUIS SHANKAR applauds a show ‘fully aware of its own ludicrousness’

cambridge impronauts Cambridge Theatre Corpus Playroom impronauts

9.30pm, Corpus Playroom, 11th-15th March, £6/£5

The Importance of Being Improvised was, at its core, a thoroughly enjoyable night at the theatre. It was quick, it made the entire audience laugh and, best of all, it was fully aware of its own ludicrousness.

Tuesday’s performance began with a short skit about Napoleon browsing Birmingham’s Selfridges in search of some hats to make him taller. What followed was a tale in the style of Oscar Wilde (a period author chosen by the audience) about a mysterious bell (again, chosen by the audience), unsurprisingly entitled “The End of the Bell.” A journey through the seedy underbelly of Victorian London followed, complete with brothels, opiates, transvestites and double-entendres aplenty.

The absurdity of it was ridiculous (in the best way possible). A minister soon became an item of conversing furniture (why they didn’t use one of the many unused chairs was beyond me but did make for a much more talkative chair); an anachronistic snood quickly transformed into a disguise; and a promiscuous father with an imaginary wife managed to punch a fake name out of existence. If any of that makes sense then I’ve explained it wrong: it was crazy, inconsistent, and hilarious.

Crazy and unexpected and hilarious

What really showed the improvisational talent of the cast was their quick wit and extensive use of appropriate, intelligent self-referential humour; the subtlest details – improbable excommunications, hats that inexplicably dropped to the floor and a forward-thinking monopoly of the world’s oil – recurred throughout, being brought up when we least expected it. On top of this, each and every one of the Impronauts was sharp and contributed jokes – both little and large – to the performance, many of which went unappreciated. A mention should also go to Ollie Stephenson, the piano player, who played an apt range of music at meaningful times, which ranged from cheery to mournful.

The use of clever little devices is what brought this into a league of its own. Replaying the same scene twice -once in slow-motion, once in super-slow-motion – allowed subtle physical comedy to play out. Flashbacks fleshed out the story (well, ‘story’) and fast-forwards effectively skipped over the more, umm, provocative parts of the action – although one time this went slightly wrong and we caught two characters in the throws of passion…

What I especially loved, though, is that they laughed too. The cast sat at the side of the stage found the spontaneous onstage action as amusing and bemusing as we did. And they played with one another: the excellent Alex O’Bryan-Tear, as narrator, encouraged the happy couple of Chris Smowton and Alan Beaumont’s Lady Gertrude to kiss, much to their badly-hidden dismay (and the amusement of the rest of the cast).

The Importance of Being Improvised is genuinely fantastic, provided you realise you are in for an evening of unexpected and unpredictable humour. The first night was hysterical and I can only assume that whatever is produced for the next few days will be equally funny.