Durham Improvised Musical

Sat 25th February 2012

reviews

Danny Coleman-Cooke

at 01:50 on 26th Feb 2012

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If you ever think you’ve felt like a bit of an idiot before, try sitting in a theatre with a notepad trying to seriously review an improvised musical about fleas with superpowers set in a family planning clinic. It could only be Durham Improvised Musical, the set of cheery thesps who rounded off Durham Drama Festival tonight. For those who haven’t seen DIM before, the audience gets to decide what happens on stage in front of them as they are asked to provide the setting, the title and the song for a new musical. The end result usually lies somewhere between ridiculous and bewildering and tonight was no exception, as we saw the world premiere of The Secret Life of Fleas, a comedy (I think) set in a family planning clinic.

A night with DIM is a sign that you’re going to have an entertaining evening and that was certainly the case tonight, as the six performers and accompanying pianist bounded around the stage with bags of energy. The singing was typically excellent and the cast showed admirable imagination and rhyming ability to weave through the increasingly complex and convoluted plot. A good audience is usually essential to good improv and a rowdy (and in the case of the punter next to me, drunken) bunch tonight ensured that there were plenty of laughs and that there were much more hits than misses. The plot introduced us to mad scientists, an equally mad Indian doctor (played hilariously by Guy Hughes) and a group of travelling fleas, who were infected with an unspecified but nasty-sounding disease.

If I had to be critical (and I probably shouldn’t be) then perhaps the show could have done with a few more songs, especially during a slightly sticky bit in the middle where the momentum started to sag a bit and the cast struggled to keep the plot moving. It was clear that some of the cast were more experienced than the others, with some of the members looking understandably a bit hesitant in comparison to the ‘all-star’ show last year, although the bewitching Natalie Goodwin had just killed four people twenty minutes earlier (on stage, I hasten to add) so we can’t blame her for being a little weary. There was clearly a strong team dynamic within the group though and there must be something in the water over at the Assembly Rooms as the cast didn’t miss an opportunity to kiss, hug and caress each other throughout the production.

It was left to the hilarious and quick-thinking pairing of Joe Leather and Guy Hughes to carry the show through, showing an array of accents and characters which provided most of the laughs from this mini-musical. However, a review can never really do an improv show justice as essentially everything in musical improv is funny; the mistakes, the jokes, the baffling plots and the tenuous rhymes (although Mr Hughes should be made Durham’s Poet Laureate for spontaneously matching ‘populate’ with ‘copulate’). All we could have asked from DIM was a fun and flippant way to end what has been a wonderful Durham Drama Festival and they certainly provided that - and they made it all up as they went along.

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Michael Bryan Earnshaw

at 10:21 on 26th Feb 2012

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Having been to see the Durham Improvised Musical twice last term I was a bit dubious about going once again. I mean, I enjoyed the first two tremendously but wondered if, having seen it before, it would begin to drag. It definitely didn’t. Obviously the nature of the show being that the actors take suggestions from the audience as to the Name of the musical, one of the Song Titles and the Setting, the performance is kept fresh.

Understandably the accompaniment (spectacularly performed solely by Seth Miall) is similar each time, but context and the ease with which the actors were able to make up words to the songs while in the middle of a show to fit the particular storyline they were presented with was incredible.

The stage was bare save for chairs at the back where the actors could take a seat when they were not needed for a scene and the costumes were simplistic (a different colour for each cast member) which enabled the audience to identify with individual characters but gave the actors scope to take on any role they could have been presented with (almost a limitless number of options given that it was completely made up.)

There had obviously been a lot of rehearsals leading up to the performance as there was a rapport between the actors that was palpable in the way they were able to play off each other and create a hilarious storyline yet one that was easy for the audience to follow. There was much hilarity throughout the whole performance especially considering the title for the musical was ‘The Secret Life of Fleas’ and the actors pulled it off brilliantly.

Special mention should go to Natalie Goodwin and Paul Moss who made a brilliant pair, bringing a fresh wave of comedy every time they took centre stage.

However there were moments when you felt that certain members of the cast were not as involved as others. Admittedly the nature of Improvisation is that you need to think on your feet and go with any idea you think of. However it is also the responsibility of the group as a whole to ensure that everyone is as involved in an improvisation as they can be even if they need some support from the others. It’s a fine line and I feel that DIM almost got it except for the odd instance. On the other hand this did not detract from what was a genuinely comical evening made all the more impressive by the wealth of talent that was so readily displayed.

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