In 2009 financier Bernie Madoff was sentenced in
Isn't Improv[isation] Theatre, along with storytelling, drama in its purest form? Unlike stand-up comedy where by and large the script's honed and memorized to a deceptively artful casualness, this is a high-wire act, the adrenalin rushes and outbreaks of cold sweat all but palpable on our players' brows as they strained to stimulate their comrades-in-repartee to excesses of zaniness and novelty. And this bold septet was taking on not some space-filling slot on a comedy night, but sustaining their scene-based/long form improv. for c. 70 minutes.
It may be mean to compare this show with the same crowd's Death by Murder show. from this April, but I'll embrace meanness and go at it anyway. Two of the key members have departed, to be replaced by a trio of newcomers. This niche skill is not a dish merely to be marinaded overnight and served up all tasty and slurpable for brekkie. The difficulty of precisely delivering it was signalled even in the preamble where the themes were settled upon afresh; this seemed to take quite a long time.
When the dish did start to crackle and pop, the format revealed itself as the cast two-by-two kicking around a bout of kleptomania, searching for jokes and flights of fancy, before decamping in favour of the next duo (occasionally a trio) to run amok with its own miniature crime wave. And so on and so forth, our seven rotating and coalescing like the coloured shards of glass in a child's kaleidoscope. So it went for nigh-on the whole running time; and maybe we could have done with a spot of variation - the odd monologue, say, or a group activity (the latter was left until last, perhaps a bit late on).
As it was we had a lot of fun from each of our fantasists: Will Jefferson's parish priest pinched a bus and drove it away round a bend while making the sign of the cross, later grumbling that his thieving was badly timed for Black Friday 'when the goods are cheapest'. In April I had thought Will was rather feeling his way but now the fecundity of his imagination was possibly the star turn. Amy Kennedy, our laid-back Californian with Scott McKenzie flowers in her hair came out with ditzy, dinky digs, struggling admirably to impose order on the blitz of larceny around her, then moaning she had nothing to show for a full day's shoplifting bar a knitting set.
Hannah Williams, in a grizzled wig as Old Mother Madoff, was a caring, bribing mother to son Patrick: 'I'll give you five meals a day'! She was enigmatically low-key - maybe a little inhibited? But I have an idea there's lots more to come from her in the future. Sofia Castelló y Tickell led extended dialogues and shone at linking together her apparently disjointed material. Killian Lohmann from
Were I to be super-critical, I might say that the show was slightly overlong given that the kleptomania theme didn't lend itself conveniently to extended exploration without repetition; so the laugh product gradually drained away a little. Might a change of theme at half time be an idea? And another thing: on my way home I passed Kellogg College and, still suffering from zaniness overload, into my mind snapped the old ad jingle for the breakfast cereal Ricicles: Ricicles are twicicles as nicicles! Both of the absconders from the April line-up had a bit of a tart edge to them, and I just wonder whether this line-up was a bit too nice, maybe just lacking a splash of vinegar in the Robin Williams and Bill Murray tradition?
But to stand up on a stage that's bare of all but a clothes rack and a tinkling keyboard, and to a space full of goggling groundlings offer up for scrutiny your speed of thought and fertility of humour - that's a tough, tough ask. I admire their courage and I salute their skill. And was Bernie from his prison cell egging on these seven Artful Dodgers?