Jason Shotts and Colleen Doyle make up Dummy. This is a two person improv show that has won multiple awards in Chicago, the international home of improvisation. Their shows are known for having deep and realistic characters and relationships, a step removed from the weird-but-funny scenes that are created by many other acts. Their focus on recognisable characters is intensely rewarding, and shows us real people on stage just as all great theatre should.
The show started with Jason chatting with an audience member to find out more about them, covering their day cleaning cupboards and a piece of artwork they were creating about hands and feet. The first scene came directly from this, with two teachers in an art gallery studying a painting of fingers and toes. The contrast between Colin, the dedicated educator and Laura, a failed engineer who had only later turned to teaching, was gentle but clear. The rest of the show explored these two characters, their relationship with each other and how they fit into the wider world.
Colin, who cared about teaching, lost his job when one of the parents over-reacted to how he handled a sensitive topic in class. Falling back on his art history degree, he started working at a gallery, bumping into Laura on the day she had finally had enough of her class and snapped. As she told them what she really thought of them and quit to find a new career, he stepped in and explained to them everything that art had to offer. His knowledge and passion shone through, leading him to win a new role at that school as Art Director.
Laura meanwhile threw herself into installation art, manufacturing cupboards that wouldn’t close. This intentional defect was built on the lack of precision that had damaged her work as an engineer, embracing her weakness and showing it to the world. Towards the end of the play we discovered that this weakness had led to a bridge she designed collapsing, and each cupboard she built was a tribute coffin to those who had died through her mistake.
As always, the plot that ran through the show was less important than the golden moments when we got to see the characters react to the situation they were in. Colin’s reaction when Laura started sharing personal information with her class was a delight, and the poor child she picked on (played alternately by Jason and Colleen, depending on the scene) got more laughs for his embarrassed silence than anything he said. As well as laughter there was sadness and introspection, and some deeper points about the areas where the responsibilities of teachers and parents overlap. A great show.
Dummy are a US-based company who tour internationally. You can see some of their work here.