When you go to a Freewheelers show you get a sneak peak into the future. This is the place improvisers come to try out their ideas for the first time in public, polishing games and formats. Anything that succeeds here will become a feature of paid shows at other venues. But at Freewheelers you get to see the show for free.
The biggest experiment of the night was OneProv, where a performer takes to the stage and plays all the characters in a single scene. The three improvisers on tonight had been developing this idea for a while and were now ready for audience feedback. We saw Darth Vader chastising a German stormtrooper for calling the Death Star “groovy”, a relationship falling apart as the guy realised his girlfriend cared more about the cat, and a Carry-on-esque scene aboard a cruise ship. Each scene was great fun, and surprisingly strong considering it was the first time in public.
The longest piece of the night was by the Kneejerks, a 20 minute piece with a variety of scenes all set in the same world. Starting with two old timers in a pub having just been released from jail, we saw one of them land a successful publishing career while the other missed their company. The publisher was trapped in a desperately empty relationship with a cactus-loving husband who had no idea how bored she was, horribly painful in real life but played out hilariously on stage. Two brothers, one bold and the other timid, swapped roles as the piece developed, the former failing to win a big contract and the latter taking up parkour. The wife of the free-runner was not happy with this change, suggesting perhaps he should start seeing other women on the side just to use up some of his energy. When even that didn’t work, she went for a drink with her jailbird grandmother who we met in the very first scene. And all of this came from the single audience suggestion of the word “pub”.
In between the exciting new work there were some classic improv games. My favourite, pan left, involved four performers on stage playing two-person scenes back to back in quick succession. These games are the reliable mortar holding the newly-formed improv bricks together, highlighting the skills of those on stage and providing light and easy fun for all involved.
Lee Dempsey, organiser and MC of Freewheelers, has created a new type of improv show to help the art form grow in the Midlands. Long may it continue.
Freewheelers runs the first Wednesday of every month, upstairs at Cherry Reds, John Bright Street, Birmingham city centre.
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