Four acts made up the first day of the Birmingham Improv Festival at the Blue Orange Theatre. If you weren’t there, here’s what you missed.
These five performers opened the festival with a show in the style of “Whose Line Is It Anyway?”, turning comedy sketches into games where simple rules had to be followed. A workplace away-day became a game when songs were added. Two astronauts approaching Jupiter became a game when the performers were restricted to starting sentences with a given letter of the alphabet. These added constraints meant there was a chance the acts would fail – the audience could see everybody involved thinking on their feet – and this increased the fun had by all.
The highlight for me was the interview with Lola-Rose Maxwell’s American beat poet, whose arrogance and general disdain for everyone else was a pleasure to watch. That said, everyone on stage demonstrated a strong ability to make interesting characters and develop humorous scenes. The Inflatables are masters of performing improv games. I’ve not seen anybody do this better.
Katy Schutte and Chris Mead wear jumpsuits. The Ghostbusters kind. Fred Deakin makes the music. He appears to use a control panel from the TARDIS for this. Katy and Chris ask the audience to shout out their favourite science fiction things. Based on this, they create a range of scenes. Not the crazy anything-goes Barbarella kind. The good kind.
In this show, we found out about the difficulties of coming out of stasis, dealing with atrophied muscles, loneliness, the need to repopulate the species and discovering you were indirectly responsible for the death of your loved ones. We met an alien that desperately wanted to suck the insides out of all humans, and two watchmen looking out into the void waiting for an interplanetary enemy attack. Most of the scenes were funny, some intentionally were not, and that mix made for a very satisfying show. I’ve tried to see this show twice before but it was sold out both times. It was worth the wait.
This show explores the history of a place, and we see some of the different people that have spent time there over the years. The audience gets to suggest which place will be the focus of the show, and at the Birmingham Improv Festival the audience suggestion was Stonehenge. Ruth Bratt and Dylan Emery showed us three couples at the site, all ghosts of times past.
- Two druids constructing the stone circle, with the high priest relying on prayer to get the job done but the worker using intellect and suggesting that science may be the way forward in future.
- A pair of friends, hippy teenagers in the swinging 60s, one about to leave to follow her dreams in San Francisco and the other left behind to her normal humdrum life.
- An old married couple, both intellectuals studying the history of the place whose relationship was a constant battle of one-upmanship.
All of the characters were a delight. It was clear that both actors were having great fun in the show and this was infectious, creating a great atmosphere and allowing both Dylan and Ruth to go bigger and bolder with their comic creations. The beauty of this is that from now on, whenever I think of Stonehenge, I will always be reminded of the old married couple that I saw on stage at the Birmingham Improv Festival.
How has your day been? Who is your best friend and why? What is a secret about you that nobody knows? Peablossom Caberet spend an hour getting to know the audience and turning their lives into wonderfully catchy and entertaining songs.
Mr Pea (Dylan Townley) and Miss Blossom (Sylvia Bishop) start their show by telling us two things. They have no friends, so want to get to know us, and they have no songs, so they will have to make them up. “Nobody knows how we do this, it’s genuinely astonishing.” And astonishing it is, as these two talented artists mix up rhyme and rhythm in singing about everything they’ve been told. The liar who didn’t admit to puncturing an air bed. The worker annoyed at his passive aggressive workmates. The driver who keeps on having accidents in her car named Dodgem. Bad cups of tea, dirty cutlery drawers and meeting the love of your life are all sources of inspiration for this fantastic pair of improvisers. A brilliant end to a brilliant evening.