Devised by: The Cast
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott
For an actor, being on stage and forgetting your lines is one of the worst experiences they can have, but imagine if there are no lines in the first place, in fact there’s no script of any kind, no inkling of the plot and throughout the hour-long show you have no idea what other cast members will do next. This is the challenge that Hivemind Productions have set themselves at the Hen &Chickens Theatre – create an entirely improvised crime show from scratch after randomly selecting a concept suggested by the audience.
Entirely spontaneous and unrehearsed, for each audience An Offer You Can’t Refuse will have “never been seen before and will never be seen again”. At the start,the Hivemind team select a few ideas at random from the hat and briefly act them out which on press night included a woman being poisoned by arsenic and a very efficient one-man construction company finding a body on a building site. But the crime they decide to explore in comedic depth is the Brexit-relevant idea of ‘stealing the future’.
And immediately the small cast swing into action. The setting is a school as Larry the son of a gangster is dragging down his more able friend Jim, while his crime-lord father Mr Pointyshoes wants Larry to join the family business. What follows is an unexpectedly intricate tale of Reliant Robin-driving henchmen, school politics, mind-control headmistresses, crime apprenticeships, parental confusion, OAP helping and a dash of Reservoir Dogs, all entirely made-up on the spot.
The entire show is surprisingly more coherent than in theory it should be, and while scenes change with a hand clap, each member of the team generously gives his colleagues time to play out their idea before leaping in with the next bit of plot, which makes it much more of a cooperative than TV improv shows like Whose Line is it Anyway and even elements of Mock the Week where competition to out-joke each other takes precedence.
Understandably with an entirely random idea to start the show and four very different minds working on it simultaneously the plot becomes amusingly elaborate and it’s clear that performers Alex O’Bryan-Tear, Jack Lawrence, Ed Elcock and Anton Evans struggle slightly to bring it all together at the end, but watching them try to solve it is as much fun as seeing the story evolve. And there are plenty of imaginative and hilarious moments along the way.
Some of the best lines come from the slightly absurdist concept and the combined freedom and panic to just say something to fill the gap, and while the group collaborate well they also enjoy trying to catch each other out by setting up scenes with two characters played by the same actor who then has to think his way out of it. And this is a challenge they rise to well.
The sense of ease and type of humour will be familiar to Footlights fans and as you would expect from a group of fresh Cambridge graduates, there are plenty of smart jokes about physics and chemistry, as well as a long-running theme on subtext mixed in with the general buffoonery. And there is a nice sense that the cast and the audience are all in on the same joke, enjoying the process of creation as much as the bizarre story.
An Offer You Can’t Refuse will be an entirely different show on its next outing but Hivemind has a strong concept that works really nicely in the small Hen &Chickens Theatre, and should stand them in good stead if the show heads to the Edinburgh Fringe in the summer. Inventive, collegiate and informed, Hivemind’s show will take your ideas and set off in unexpected directions for an entertaining and fun hour of improvisation.
Reviewed on 20 January 2017. Monthly performances on 3 February, 3 March and 7 April 2017 | Image: Contributed