Directors: Adam Meggido and Pippa Evans
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott
While the stand-up tour and the panel show are the aim of most aspiring comedians, improvisation has been relegated to the role of poor cousin. Even in the theatre, dramatic plays are tacitly seen as somehow more accomplished, whereas making comedy look easy is actually hard work. Showstopper Productions are on a mission to change that with the 12thouting of their annual 50 continuous hours “Improvathon” at Wilton’s Music Hall.
A Western-themed extravaganza, The Good, the Bad and the Fifty runs non-stop from 7pm on Friday 15th February to 9pm on Sunday 17th February divided into 25 episodes each lasting 100-minutes. Set in the small town of Wilton’s Creek, the first two chapters follows around 20 pre-assigned characters including a newly arrived Sheriff who rustles feathers with his approach to law and order, the Cactus Sisters besotted with the local English blacksmith, the parson and his daughter who’s learning to be sassy and the local alcoholic causing chaos for his neighbours.
In the first 5-10 minutes of each new section, the unseen God-like voice of the compere introduces the characters appearing in that episode, as well as any new actors joining the company, a sitcom-like approach that helps the audience to keep track of the townsfolk. Scenarios are then announced in which the allotted characters have until the lights dim to perform an improvised sketch, building on the unfolding story as well as their own role as best they can.
At this early stage in proceedings, with another 46-hours of performance to come, there’s a real sense of cooperation and camaraderie among the cast, no one is fighting for air or dominating scenes which very quickly helps to create a genuine feel for the town of Wilton’s Creek. Before long the audience is entirely and hilariously drawn into the evolving storylines and whether it’s the burgeoning love stories or old resentments resurfacing, the one hour and 40-minute slot flies by.
The expanding plot becomes almost soap-opera addictive, and while you know it’s being made up on the spot, the thought of going home and not finding out what happens to the characters is strangely disappointing. There is some excellent work from Alan Cox as former Civil War man Colonel Sanders falling in love with Petunia May who runs the General Store and finds his love thwarted by a rival in Episode Two. Equally fun are the Cactus Sisters from Mischief Theatre who as we left them having all been led astray by Blacksmith Will Chair (Alexander McWilliam) planned to poison him with cactus spines, while the Sheriff (Jamie Cavanagh) is smarting from the appearance of old flame/nemesis Missy Zippy.
The show’s Western stylings are great including some dodgy-prop horses and free-standing saloon doors and a stagecoach artfully created from two large wheels and the actors. There’s plenty of Stetson hats, yeehaw-ing and drawling vowel sounds to evoke the wild west in the middle of London, and the energy is still high enough to keep the laughs coming in almost every scene.
How this will all look in another 46-hours’ time is all part of the fun – the joy of improvisation is as much in the off-the-cuff lines as seeing how well the actors handle things going wrong. Showstopper Productions have a great concept and one that more than a decade on is getting better and better. Whether you watch a couple of episodes or attempt a marathon sitting, this weekend-long show will be a lot of fun for the audience and the actors, so mosey-on down to Wiltons and enjoy the ride.
Runs until 17 February 2019 | Image: Claire Bilyard