An Improbable Musical – Royal & Derngate, Northampton

Reviewer: Kerrie Walters

Director: Lee Simpson

Improbable Theatre Company has a long history of making improvised theatre. This, however, is their very first musical, brought to us live and in the moment on the Royal auditorium stage. This show has come to fruition as part of the Made in Northampton initiative and is co-produced by The Royal and Derngate and Improbable Theatre

Taking stimuli from audience suggestions, the cast creates and improvises a show using three components: a place, a piece of food and a sentence. From here we see a talented ensemble thread together a narrative to create the show. Truth be told, this show is a peek behind the curtain at what really happens in a rehearsal room when actors are let loose and allowed to play. Improbable has put together an excellent concept with hilarious results. It is worth noting that due to the improvisation the age rating for the show is 14+.

E M Parry has created a functional and adaptable design for this show, simply an island structure consisting of two sets of staircases, a door and some shelves that rotate when required, and along the exposed back wall, shelving units filled with random objects to assist the narrative. These range from cups and sticks to pieces of plastic sheeting and suitcases. Any combination of these props can be used and can produce infinite possibilities for the narrative each night. Often these props are re-purposed and used with originality.  For example, on press night, we were treated to a wonderfully juvenile puppetry sequence involving some old steel teapots and teacups as a family of ducks, used to tell the story of a divorce and its impact upon the child. Simple, powerful, and dynamic, it punched home the words of Josie Lawrence as she belted out The house is on fire and this time it isn’t my fault (which was the stimulus on press night).
On this occasion, two cast members were isolating and so they carried on with a reduced cast size, but with no discernible effect upon the delivery of the show.

The actors work together as one breathing organism, feeding, and bouncing off one another as they intertwine the audience-given stimulus into a viable and dynamic dramatic offering. Each has a quick wit and a fast tongue, an essential skill in a show like this, and they constantly up the stakes to build the narrative. This has hilarious results and leaves the audience in tears of laughter. Indeed, the show is a testament to the talent and abilities of each cast member as scenes change quickly from the abstract and absurd, to the tender, to the emotionally fraught and it is their instinctive teamwork that keeps it afloat.

Lee Simpson has put together an excellent concept and has assembled the perfect team to execute it. Josie Lawrence is the standout performer of the evening, often orchestrating the action within a scene and pulling focus back to the original audience suggested stimuli. On press night her repetition of I like the lake, it has water in various scenes was a real crowd-pleaser. A particular highlight on press night was a scene in which Lawrence directed the other cast members in a step-by-step guide of chocolate making using odd ingredients. This scene soon descended into farce with each cast member in turn declaring their undying love for her.

Ruth Bratt’s bawdy subversions within the most innocent of scenes make for some side-splitting moments. She is a master of innuendo and often ventures into the obscure.

An Improbable Musical is a fantastic concept and a true representation of improvisation done right. Two things are absolutely guaranteed for an audience watching this show: a highly amusing and entertaining night of theatre; and being filled with a sudden urge to jump on stage and join in – or at the very least to find a local improv class. Catch it while you can.

Runs Until 5 March 2022 and touring

The Reviews Hub Score

Improvisation done right!

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The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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