Creators: Katy Schutte and Chris Mead
Director: Erin McGathy
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott
There isn’t a huge amount of science fiction in London theatre making Thirteen Cycles, an improvised 60-minute show dedicated to an under-used field, an appealing prospect and a chance for its two performers to showcase what should be a diverse knowledge of alien planets and advanced technologies along with the conventions and characters of this much-loved genre.
There is no doubting the enthusiasm of ‘improvisers’ Katy Schutte and Chris Mead, ready-dressed in customised boiler suits and prepared for any scenario the audience chooses to throw at them. From an array of possible suggestions contributed by spectators including a canning factory and an ice palace, Schutte plumps for a spaceship repair garage and the show gets underway.
It is a shame that the setting is the only bit of audience participation in Thirteen Cycles because the central pairing return to the same ideas, with a tendency towards the domestic family or relationship drama, rather than the range of sci-fi opportunities available. Three scenarios recur, the original repair garage with a family of mechanics in which grandson Kevin dreams of being a pilot much to the annoyance of his more practical grandfather. Over a few scenes, interspersed throughout the show, we learn about a dysfunctional home life and despite the occasional reference to the machinery they are fixing, it is not predominantly a science fiction story.
A second strand involves a woman imprisoned for stabbing a revolutionary leader and about to stand trial for her crimes. Again, not sci-fi specific, the focus is on humorous discussions with her friend Timmy and played like a Famous Five adventure in clipped 40s accents. Thirdly, the Chancellor of Earth approaches his organic cat-loving boss to justify an attack on Jupiter providing a well-timed gag about a Cabinet in disarray, not knowing which members are human and unable to work out how things got so bad.
Schutte and Mead find a way to dovetail a couple of these stories and in that sense aspects of Thirteen Cycles feel pre-prepared, not the dialogue but perhaps the characters and situations which detracts from some of its freshness. Both improvisers are particularly good at the off-the-cuff or deadpan remark which generates much of the humour but with the focus on the domestic, you do feel the scenarios running out of steam.
More jeopardy would keep the performers on their toes and using the invariably random imagination of the audience could work to their advantage. Asking for input at different points in the show would mix-up the ideas, and thinking beyond setting to ask for plot points, character suggestions or particular phrases to incorporate would test Schutte and Mead’s improvisational skill and amplify the humour as they try to make it all fit.
Using Tom Bacon’s technical improvisation utilising visual design by Dave Whyte, Guy Moorhouse, Robert Armstrong and Fred Deakin, there is a plenty of scope for more exciting and ambitious space-related scenarios. Thirteen Cycles is a good basis for a different kind of improvisation show, although in its current form the performers are having the most fun, it just needs more audience participation to reach warp speed.
Runs Until 29 November 2018 | Image: Contributed