Review One by Alyce Biddle
Turning up to what I must admit was my first experience of improvised drama I had no idea what to expect. And has it happened neither did the cast. Greeted by a girl who had painted herself green and obviously taken some creative direction from Gollum, I was feeling incredibly uncomfortable about what would happen next. When I was then told to write on a piece of red paper a sin in the form of ‘Thou shalt…’ I started to panic, wondering if I were to be the one doing the improvising… Deserted by my friend for whom it was all a little bit too much, I sat down to watch this play all alone. For those not too keen on audience participation in theatre I probably won’t be recommending you this.
However I soon warmed to the performance and I am still marvelling at the speed of improvisation from the actors, and in particular the lighting and sound guys. Overtime the laughter changed from awkward discomfort to genuine amusement. Getting by far the best reception was Lottie Broomhall (the green Gollum who had greeted me) whose invasive character was literally in your face. Credit must go to the pianist (Max Grant), improvising along with the rest, whose his organ-like accompaniment really made the performance.
Despite my frank embarrassment throughout most of the hour, the play was certainly entertaining. With a less eager audience I fear it would definitely flop, but I suppose that risk element of the unknown is exactly what attracts the actors as well as those who pay to watch it.
Review Two by Evelyn Perry
For any actor, forgetting a line on stage is one of the most worrying thoughts you can have. For Student Improv Nottingham, there are no such worries. The concept of improvised comedy is as much dependent on a responsive audience as on the actors to provide good improvised scenes. It was with this trepidation that I approached my first production at the New Theatre this year.
The scene was set admirably by the musical interludes of Max Grant who provided a suitably sinister backdrop to the hell themed show. The sparse stage is to be expected for an improv show and indeed did not detract from the action, which is as much as can be hoped for with the short turnaround time.
The show was opened by Paul Schmidt’s diabolical persona. What struck false from the outset was that the compere seemed to be improvising along with the scenes. In situations dictated by the audience, hesitancy is to be forgiven, yet Schmidt appears ill at ease in the role of compere, stumbling over even simple and surely directed speeches. That said his persona and physicality are sufficiently sinister to forget this at times.
The highlight of the show is Lottie Broomhall. Her ease of audience interaction was engaging and funny. She shared good rapport with Schmidt and, most crucially in improv, managed to keep scenes ticking along, more than can be said for Schmidt.
The principal format was based on the misguided idea that audience cue cards would direct the scenes. This alternative to shouted suggestions (also used in part) fails because there is no way in which Schmidt and Broomhall can ensure their selection is funny. This may be a failure of the audience but Newall poorly handled it in preparation and this was obvious in the actors on stage.
The scenes themselves had occasional funny moments, but this reviewer could not help but feel the audience laughed because they knew the actors. They found inexplicable amusement in jokes, which relied on the basest and most menial level of wit. The actors were awkward, chuckling at each other from the back of the stage to the extent that one felt that this was observing an early rehearsal, fun in a friendly setting but far too jocular and amateur for the stage itself.
Overall S.I.N. are not a bad improv troop, nor does their show lack concepts which, maturely handled, would produce an entertaining evening. However this is marred, even destroyed, by the sheer lack of commitment to the stage persona the ‘sinners’ showed. That said, each day is different in an improv show, so pop down to the theatre and hope that you find sinners at the devil’s command not simply S.I.N.ners amusing themselves before a surplus to requirement audience.
Review Three by Mav Reynolds
For one week only the New Theatre was transformed into ‘Hell’ by Nottingham University’s Improv society for a series of performances based around the seven deadly sins. The format may be somewhat unorthodox for the regular theatre attendant. The audience is accosted in the foyer by Satan (Paul Schmidt) and his minion (Lottie Broomhall), who request commandments in the form, ‘Thou Shalt’ or ‘Thou Shalt Not’. These commandments will be broken throughout the evening by the other performers, each of whom represents one of the deadly sins. With Schmidt acting as compere, each performer has the chance to lead a scene in which we shall see them break one of the farcical commandments.
The premise of the evening is a fascinating one, almost a reconstructed performance workshop, revealing, and reveling in the naked essence of the actor’s craft. It is a task that requires impressive range, talent, speed of thought on the part of the actors and the tech crew, willing involvement from the audience and forgiveness for minor misunderstandings. It is a great opportunity to witness the transformative quality of the stage. Unfortunately for the most part it was an opportunity squandered. The sinners had to tread a narrow beam, on the one side being professional and aloof, on the other engaging the audience, encouraging them to buy into the unpolished quality, the rough beauty, of the sketches. Below this beam lies a void of ignominy, unfortunately the final end of Route 49.
On a positive note there seemed to be great understanding between the performers, and there were moments when the pairs managed to find humour and tragedy in what are, if nothing else, entirely original scenes of artistic inspiration. Of particular praise must be James Hastings for his spineless hedgehog, and the two performers in the ‘French Restaurant’ scene.
Without a doubt, the most interesting moments were found in the choreographed child of Satan sketch, where the sound and lighting were masterfully controlled by the tech crew and Max Grant, to lend a tangible quality to the mime work. Indeed it seemed as though the skits were lead less by the actors than ‘hells musician’ who was more than proficient. The commandments, more often than not, seemed a mere afterthought. Predictably, the loudest laughs were generated by the rehearsed scenes between Schmidt and Broomhall, in which sexual innuendo stood front and centre.
Unfortunately these engaging moments were sparse, especially in the entirely improvised scenes which seemingly entertained the performers alone, leaving the audience in the lamentable position of ineffectual interloper. Giggling from the row of performers that faced the audience in traverse position often found silence meeting it across the stage. The interaction with the audience, ‘banter’ if you will, was limited and not used to any great effect by Schmidt whose physical presence was not matched by his verbal prowess. More should have been made of the annihilation of the fourth wall, which was not done with the conviction required and retained a spectral existence throughout, placing the audience in a confusing limbo. One could not help feeling slightly superfluous, unnecessary, as though the only purpose for the audience member was to confer consequence upon wave after wave of irrelevant self-indulgence.
This could have been an insight into the art of performance. This reviewer however left confused, uninspired, and above all excluded. I’m afraid Improv seems to be an art form that requires a more forgiving audience than I, or a more engaging piece than ‘Route 49’.