Tag Archives: Jewellery Quarter

Yes! And…

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?

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆


Afternoon Delight

AN EVENING OF SEX

A E Harris Building, Birmingham, Sunday 3rd December, 2017

 

A small but discerning audience gathers on a chilly afternoon in a converted factory building in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter.  On offer is ‘An Evening of Sex’ but before we can get too excited, the programme notes reveal that the three short plays we are about to see are united by one factor: the characters do not have sex.  Frankly, I’m relieved.

Paperless

First up is a one-hander, so to speak, written and directed by Dominic Thompson and performed by Jack McBride.  Martin wakes up hungover and handcuffed to a toilet.  It’s his first wedding anniversary and he’s missed a lot of voicemail from his Mrs.  He’s due to fly with her to Dublin and time is running out.  McBride holds our attention well – as the bottom falls out of Martin’s world, and the arse hangs out of his trousers.  There is some neat physical comedy here as Martin drops his phone into the bowl and has to fish it out again, using a sock as a glove, and McBride swaps in and out of the character of a cleaning woman with clarity and ease.  This is a natty piece of writing from Thompson, fresh and contemporary.  We never learn why Martin’s so-called mate has done this to him, but that’s a minor point.

Fred and Ginger

Next up: a two-hander that charts the relationship between schoolfriends, Carl and Izzy.  We meet them at rehearsals for their annual school production, in a sort of Neil Simon Same Time, Next Year kind of way.  In four scenes, we see them grow up before our very eyes, from immature kids eating sweets and playing with Matchbox cars, to young adults, catching up with each other, both having their own lives.  Tilly Farell-Whitehouse undergoes quite a transformation in terms of look and attitude as the earnest, sweet-natured Izzy, quoting her mom and gran as the ultimate authorities on just about everything.  Dominic Thompson is equally credible as the wayward Carl, for whom school is not the best place.  Writer Michael Southan leaves it to us to fill in the gaps between the scenes, keeping the exposition of each scene to the minimum, and this works very well.  It’s sweetly played, and nicely paced by director Ian Robert Moule.  One of the mission statements of Gritty Theatre is to put West Midlands voices, West Midlands stories on the stage.  One of the advantages of the local accent is it readily lends bathos to any statement, a gift for any comedy: witness Izzy’s line, “That last chorus of Fame shredded my larynx.”  It would be interesting to see how the accent plays in the metropolis.

Painting a Picture for the World

Third and last, we have another two-hander, written by Dave Pitt.  The setting is the neat but sparse boudoir of one of your higher-class prostitutes.  Kitty (Jessica Melia) admits her latest ‘trick’, Mark (Damien Dickens), a nervous fellow who just wants ‘to talk’.  And so begins an exchange of observations rather than bodily fluids, the upshot of which is that money can’t buy you love.  Well, we could have told him that from the start.  The play does provide something of a window into the world of the working girl but comes across as an interview rather than a conversation.  Melia cuts a sympathetic figure and Dickens gets Mark’s awkwardness across, but we know he’s going to go away unsatisfied.  The tart with a heart pecks him on the cheek ‘for free’ and he shuffles out.  The session peters out and the play ends.  Nicely played but with no real pay-off.

All-in-all, a fresh and delightful afternoon of brand-new writing.  Perhaps Gritty Theatre have played it safe this time around but I look forward to seeing more of their work.

gritty_theatre