I’m An Improviser - Get Me Out Of Here! is The House of Improv’s latest work, which plays out six weeks of an unscripted reality TV show in a little over an hour: from the audition tapes, through the first encounters of the new housemates, comically fast-forwarding through the slow parts, and culminating in the audience vote for the grand winner.
I enjoyed that the reality show cast was made up of six characters written by audience members on name tags, and picked out of a hat. The motley crew consisted of: Bluebell McButtercup from Georgia (played by Kilian Lohmann), Sebastian the vegan (Eliza McHugh), the amnesiac Jane Doe (Vidy Reddy), Augustus the middle-class white male (Emma Hinnells, who also co-directs the troupe), Steve the Dungeons and Dragons fanatic (Amy Kennedy), and Dave Burns the health and safety inspector-turned-pyromaniac (Will Jefferson). They competed to gain the title of President of the Moon, another audience idea.
The contestants and host Hannah Williams (also a co-director) gave each other equal ‘airtime’ such that there was no dominating storyline; the show was well balanced. The group chemistry was evident in that they played to each other’s strengths and I imagine the performers get along well outside of the show too. Consequently, they were able to build off of previous scenes, and motifs (or running jokes) emerged, such as unrequited love, ill-timed nudity at the jacuzzi, and arson. The presenter cleverly weaved in the moon theme with an anti-gravity room and a moon cake bake-off.
I was not a fan of the opening bit where the two halves of the audience were pitted against each other to yell loudly - this seemed a little childish and might have fit in better as a warm up if the audience had been solicited for suggestions throughout the show.
At the beginning, the scenes dragged on a bit when the contestants were first meeting each other. In previous improv shows I’ve seen, I like when the “arrive late and leave early” advice for movies and novels is adhered to, as it keeps us guessing and we can fill in the gaps with information that is not critical to be seen in order to advance the plot. However, the troupe tightened up in the middle and end, once the characters and the relationships between them were better established.
I imagine that having a ’skeleton’ for the show is helpful to keep the budding improvisers on track. The framework seemed contrived at times as I like improv shows when you can’t figure out if there is any sort of pre-planned structure and everything seems to evolve from a blank slate. On the other hand, my friend who had never seen improv comedy loved the format and laughed a lot - many moments pleased the crowd, especially with the recurring elements.
The piano player Matthew Kemp's accompaniment blended in smoothly without overpowering the actors. In staying just out the spotlight, but in supporting the show, he became the absolute star of the evening. I appreciated his nod to 'Hail to the Chief' as the contestants filed out for their final vote to determine President of the Moon, and other riffs that changed the tone as characters fought or revealed poignant back stories. I wonder to what extent the pianist observed and reacted to the scenes, or whether he had any influence in shaping the dialogue as the actors tuned in to the shifting melodies; the fact that this was not evident speaks to the skill of the musician and the hours that The House of Improv must have spent practicing.
To see a completely new reality TV show develop in the moment, you can head to the Michael Pilch Studio this Thursday, Friday, or Saturday night - though the last evening is already sold out!