MIDLANDS IMPROV NIGHT
1000 Trades, Birmingham, Wednesday 15th June 2022
In a room above a bar in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter, an audience assembles for a evening of improvised comedy. There are three acts, each of them taking a different approach to the art form. Some may see it as a licence to show off. Others may see it as an opportunity to tap into a collective creativity and create ephemeral wonders.
First up is a group of youngsters from the University, styling themselves as Improvabunga. In a preview of their Edinburgh Fringe show, ‘Watch This Improv!’, they solicit the usual things from the audience: a genre, a subgenre, a location… with the added interventions of buzzers distributed among audience members: one triggers a song, another a kiss or a slap… and so on. The piece that emerges, ostensibly a ‘psychological thriller’ is dubbed ‘The Recurring Night at the Museum’, and it turns out to be rather good. The cast collaborate like well-oiled cogs. The support and the invention are equally important. The action is underscored by improvised mood music provided by a guy called Reuben on a keyboard, which is highly effective at creating atmosphere. An improvised song is a highlight, with spontaneous backing vocals. Most impressively the story has an effective structure, and the spotlight is shared equally, as cast members slickly glide from scene to scene. There is something intrinsically democratic about improv, collectively created and collectively experienced. An impressive start. They should do well at the festival.
Second is ‘Behind the Headlines’, which takes the form of a kind of panel show. Our compere and adjudicator, JP Houghton, reads out news headlines from the past seven days and then casts two of the three participants, who are competing for a place in the final round, in a scene that discusses the story. And so a story about a shortage of Cadbury’s Flakes gives rise to a scene about the two employees responsible for the shortage waiting to explain themselves to the big boss. A story about the perfect recipe for gin, leads to a scene about two connoisseurs in a gin bar. And so, while they’re not acting out the news events themselves, the comedy that ensues stems from side lines, using invented characters. The scoring is perfectly arbitrary but the fun comes from seeing the three interact and create in different pairs. Luckily, JP is nearby to blow a whistle to bring scenes to an end, but so skilled are all three, they come up with natural punchlines. This is a preview of their longer show, which is about to take a short residency at the nearby Blue Orange Theatre.
Third and lastly is a group called ‘Breakfast of Champions’. Again, their format is different. Nick Hollingsworth (winner of tonight’s headlines show, by the way) is invited to speak at length about whatever occurs to him, triggered by a word yelled from the audience. What follows is the group creating scenes riffing off his unstructured speech. This gives rise to the most surreal and absurd scenes of the night, with some belly laughs. They’re a quick-witted bunch and are clearly well accustomed to working together.
An evening of fun, and I marvel at the collaborative nature of proceedings and how well it all turns out, with barely a dead line between the whole lot of them. There is something dazzling about improv done as well as this. Trouble is, you can’t see the same show twice. Different genres will be picked. Other events will occur in next week’s news. Nick will spout different drivel… So is improv the purest theatrical form, as ephemeral as you can get, with creation and performance happening simultaneously before disappearing forever? I’m inclined to say yes. And?
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆