THE KARAOKE THEATRE COMPANY
New Vic Theatre, Newcastle under Lyme, Friday 14th October, 2016
Alan Ayckbourn’s new piece (his 80th!) is something of a departure while remaining very Ayckbourn in flavour. Ostensibly, we are in the hands of an improv troupe who treat us to several skits in various genres, calling upon us to provide sound effects en masse, with the occasional brave individual selected for greater things…
There are two words to strike fear into the heart of a British theatregoer: audience participation. Despite the cast’s assurances that we only have to take part as much as we would like to – or we can ‘sit there and sulk’ all night, you never lose the feeling that you might be called upon at any moment for ritualised embarrassment. But of course, it’s great fun to see others getting up – and there is no shortage of willing participants. Naturally, the volunteers cannot match the skills of the professionals and so the cast work hard to ad lib and joke in order to cover the inevitable shortcomings. There are shades of The Generation Game and Whose Line Is It Anyway?
As for the skits, we get a very Ayckbournesque farce about a plumber and suspected infidelity, with a string of coarse innuendos; there is a Nordic Noir dumb show dubbed by audience members haltingly reading lines from scripts; a period drama of sibling rivalry – this is performed twice with an audience member standing-in for one of the roles; and a Victorian Gothic horror that gives the cast more to play with. The material, deliberately shoddy, us by-the-by. We are too intent on watching for our next cue to mimic birdsong or stamp our feet to take it in properly. The grand finale is a conjuring trick, Find The Lady, writ large with huge cabinets.
There is much to enjoy and plenty of laughs but the set-ups can take a long time for little payoff. All the way through, I’m waiting for the twist, for the reveal that this is all a spoof, a send-up of those gung ho theatre groups of little merit, for the hand of the dramatist to reveal itself once and for all, but it never comes.
Taken at face value, it’s an amusing night out and the energy of the performers just about keeps us interested and on their side. A bit of fun but, unusually for Ayckbourn, there’s no bite behind the laughs.