The Victoria, Birmingham, Wednesday 13th December 2017
As a reviewer I get invited to all sorts of things, so when a man I’d never heard of asked me to come to a room above a pub, I jumped at the chance. On this occasion, it was to see him and his troupe of players improvise their way through a show from scratch.
Called The Kneejerks, I suppose because of the speed of their reactions, this sextet treated a small but appreciative audience to an evening of sketches made up on the spot and triggered by two suggestions from the audience. They asked for something we might like for Christmas and I called out ‘Magic 8 ball’ and someone else said ‘zombie activity day’. And they were off! We met workers in the magic 8 ball factory, competing for the most nihilistic slogans to put in their product, and an actor (Jon Trevor) seeking to move away from the zombie gigs and become a romantic lead…
With improvisation, there is a kind of theatrical alchemy at work, where the actors pull ideas, characters, scenes and jokes from thin air. Not all of them are gold but the hit rate here is very high. The element of surprise is very much in evidence – there is even a touching moment when someone gives an old school friend a Rubik’s cube for Christmas because she remembers how imperfectly he solved it many years ago, and that is why she loves him.
The second half is a spin-off from the characters and situations we saw in the first. We get to vote on our favourite, and we opt for ‘Silent Monster’, a Frankenstein creation, a superbly expressive and bloody hilarious Danielle Harford, supported by her creator, Kate Knight. Out of nowhere, comes a series of scenes that have shape and continuity, as the cast build on ideas. It’s not just about funny characters and quips – the scenes have shape, the whole has a structure. It is an impressive feat and clearly, the Kneejerks are a solid team that is accustomed to bouncing ideas around, picking those ideas up and running with them. Improv requires a specific skill set and a willingness to take risks. Much more of this and we writers will be out of work.
Even more impressive is that admission is free and not just to freeloading reviewers. The group stage an evening of free entertainment every third Wednesday of the month in this city centre pub. I shall definitely make return visits when my hectic schedule allows.
Bravo, Kneejerks! You’ve got a new fan.
The Kneejerks are: Dan McKee
And everyone a genius!