Theatre | The Improvathon

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Riley Smith Hall, March 14

Theatre Group’s 2013 charity Improvathon ran from 12 noon on Thursday the 14th of March until the same time on the following day, raising money for prostate cancer. The set up consisted of (twenty four) 45-minute episodes, for each of which an object, location, and a theme were chosen impromptu by the audience.

Having watched the event from 7 pm until 10 am, I was initially struck by the erratic energy and character-commitment of the nine-person cast, despite the show already running into its eighth hour. The way in which the cast attacked (sometimes physically) the objects and themes thrown at them by the audience, meant the show immediately transcended the self-satisfied ‘cleverness’ seen in mainstream improv shows like Whose Line is it Anyway?. In fact, the free-flowing anarchy of the storyline and dialogue was more reminiscent of cartoons like Family Guy and Aqua Teen Hunger Force.

The plot and costumes all had to adhere to the 1920’s setting, and a printed handout told you a little about the stock characters, for example:

Laurence S. Dangerfield, Ph.D (played by a swashbuckling Alex Leece) – Famed Egyptologist and explorer extraordinaire, Laurence has returned home from Cairo to open a display the British museum. He is usually found in his offices with Pemberton J. Delaware reliving the glory days and plotting against his nemesis, Colonel Zietal [sic].

this was a creative colossus and a showcase of inspiring prowess that trounces Whose Line is it Anyway like a slap from a wet fish.

As the show wore on, the anticipated tiredness of the performers merely gave way to a kind of creative delirium.  To watch this was like entering a beautiful, dream-like state where one can utterly and happily forget the oppressing convention of the real world. The youthful feeling was inspiring, and I got a sense of a horizon beckoning young talents. A certain Eddie Halliday (Colonel Zietal) impressed especially, embodying various new characters on the spot with comic inventiveness and professional conviction.

I must also mention the excellent Leo Charlton (stock character: Pembleton J. Delaware), who stood out as being the zaniest of a zany bunch. He added a volatile edge to the proceedings, and was at times delightfully disturbing. As a young Texan child, he spins a rubber chicken his brothers were playing with by its neck and slams it down onto the stage. This later forms the basis for which detective Agnes Fox, with not quite Sherlock-level deduction, decides it is he (now adult) who is behind the bombing of his brother’s “cow pat factory”.

More highlights included Colonel Zietal shaving swastikas into the woodland animals, and also his attempt to blow up the queen, whom we are reminded is Mary of Teck, wife of George the V. (Zietal: “ Ja, I know zees! I just don’t like her, okay?!”)

Alas, for something set in the 1920s, there are perhaps a few too many WW2 references, and this leaves the viewer rather glad they did not go to private school. Nevertheless, justice would not be done to merely label Theatre Group’s latest production as a ‘great effort’; this was a creative colossus and a showcase of inspiring prowess that trounces Whose Line is it Anyway like a slap from a wet fish.

 

Alban Smith

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