Improvised theatre has been with us for a long, long time. In fact, according to Wikipedia, The earliest well documented use of improvisational theatre in Western history is found in the Atellan Farce of Rome circa 391 BC. Since then, improv has become a staple of drama schools and sometimes gets overlooked as an art form in its own right. Putting that right we have The Free Association who describe themselves as “bringing you the most exciting improvised comedy in our nation’s capital, (at time of writing, London). Our mission is to delight and inspire with a selection of the finest spontaneous funny stuff around” and yesterday I went to the Cog ARTSpace in Haggerston to see what they produce.
The programme consisted of three separate improv shows performed by different groups. The first section was “The Level 3 Class” recent graduates of the Free Association’s Level 3 training course – did you see what they did with the name there? The performers (Rachel Parris, Max Olesker, Ivan Gonzalez, Lola-Rose Maxwell, Simon Lukacs, Arfie Mansfield and Alexander Fox) took a word from the audience – ‘Guilt’ – and did various different scenes around it. In the course of their presentation we had, wannabe NASA astronauts, Mr Stabby, stuffed animals heading for the hangman and a wonderful advert for ‘No Guilt Pills’ (seriously, I would love it if someone invented these).
Our second act was a group called “Do Not Adjust Your Stage” who started their performance by having a chat with a member of the audience. Luckily, they found Natalie from Austin, Texas – a city whose motto is ‘Keep Austin Weird’ visiting the UK for a quick holiday. From their conversation with Natalie, the “DNAYS” performers (Rhys Collier, Tim Grewcock, Shaun Lowthian, Helen O’Donnell, Nick Oram and Matt Stevens) went on to build a long, rambling and hilarious tale involving a child, forbidden to have fun by his father, a man who wanted to spread the word across the pond about the delights of Beckwell Lido – a place that actually does exist and I want to visit now – and what happens when you check in at the airport in wet trousers.
After the interval we were back for the final segment, presented by “The Free Association” Players (Graham Dickson, Jim Woods, Briony Redman, Naomi Peterson, Jonathan Broke, Freya Parker, Robin Clyfan, Alison Thea-Skot and Alex Holland) along with special guest Ralf Little (very famous prior to 2005 I seem to remember). The process was that someone from the audience gave Ralf a word – the first was ‘blister’ – Ralf gave us a monologue around this word of something that had happened in his life, the the FA players took elements of the monologue and turned them into a series of sketches. Now, I’ve never been to Glastonbury but after listening to Ralf’s tale of when he was there (and got a blister through wearing incorrect footwear) I will probably avoid the place for a few years more. Ralf’s tale was great by itself but in the hands of the FA it took on epic proportions with people only being saved from themselves by the helpful interventions of Tony the bodyguard. Ralf’s second story concerned a truly disastrous audition he had once done for an extremely well known American actor which, while I felt sorry for him, had me howling tears of laughter as everything got away from him. The FA players really rose to the challenge of turning this story into something more and opened with an audition that – thanks to the auditionee not being ‘ready to get down to business’ could not have gone worse if it tried. More followed, including an excruciating first date and a man that just couldn’t get waited on in a restaurant bringing the event to a close.
So, two hours of improv and what did I think? I don’t like to overuse the word but it was Awesome! The talent on the stage was astounding to see as they created grotesque but somehow believable scenarios out of thin air. Each of the three groups worked amazingly well together and there was a lot of trust shown between them as a single line started a whole change of events with actors coming on and off, interacting with each other and delivering made up on the spot dialogue at the speed of lightening. This show really was a superb masterclass in the art of improvisational comedy theatre and I have to be honest and say I loved every minute.
Review by Terry Eastham
Improv-Comedy from The Free Association plus Guests
Sunday 7th June
Ralf Little (Royle Family, Two Pints of Lager..)
Do Not Adjust Your Stage
Level 3 Class Inc Rachel Parris (Radio 4, Austentatious) , Max Olesker & Ivan Gonzalez (Max and Ivan)