I suppose it’s not surprising that anyone who would be happy for their Instagram posts to be displayed in front of an audience is a) unlikely to have anything beyond ridiculous or incriminating on there, and b) also happy to answer questions from the cast about the context of their online content, with some contributors giving details that weren’t even asked for, or couldn’t reasonably be inferred from the photo or video being viewed.
I doubt any of the contributors would mind either way what your reviewer says about them, particularly the guy whose friend chipped in to say one of the guy’s videos on TikTok has notched up twenty-two million views. As it happens, he underestimated that figure – I couldn’t help but look it up afterwards. “Lowkey crushing her bones” is the title of a ten-second clip of a young man and his girlfriend cuddling. He ‘decides to roll over’, so the caption says, and in doing so the girlfriend suddenly feels her boyfriend’s full body weight on top of her. It now has 25.6 million views. Fair play to them.
Anyway, the cast do very well to incorporate almost every detail provided by the contributors into a series of fast-paced comedy sketches. Yes, it gets more than a little convoluted, to the point of being implausible, but it is amusing in the light-hearted sense. The company is, I’m sure, very capable of dark humour, but it’s in relatively short supply here. But there are also some highly perceptive remarks on human behaviour – a woman has effectively cheated on her husband with the online retailer Amazon, such is the sheer amount of orders being received on a near-daily basis in an already cluttered house. Elsewhere, the stubbornness of a driver who won’t stop and ask someone for directions means he ends up in another country. Of course, he hasn’t got a map – he knows what he’s doing, or so he thinks.
Characters proud of their heritage, or otherwise disdainful about certain countries, get their comeuppance thanks to the results of genealogy tests. Not every punchline landed well with the audience – there was a random bit about Vladimir Putin and Joe Biden in a face-to-face meeting that ended in disagreement (quelle surprise), but otherwise cast members were able to pull away from narratives that clearly weren’t worth pursuing any further.
This is a novel way, at least to me, of constructing an improvised show from audience contributions – the usual format, from past experience, involves asking the audience for various ‘random’ (inverted commas mine) ideas – a household appliance, a location and a genre, for example, such that the company starts with, for instance, ‘The Washing Machines of Basingstoke’ in the style of science fiction as a starting point. Because of the level of personal details provided here, in the form of the actual stories from contributing Instagrammers, means the show’s plotlines take true stories and find humour in making them implausible, as opposed to taking an absurd fictional scenario and trying to make it somewhat convincing.
Improvised shows being what they are, no two evenings are ever the same, but based on the performance I attended, it’s an energetic and amusing night out.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Hen & Chickens Theatre
109 St Paul’s Road
London N1 2NA