Musicals made in the moment
Since their conception in the 19th Century, (thanks Wikipedia), musicals have always been rather predictable affairs. Whether it’s Annie, West Side Story or Lord of the Rings (the musical), when the overture fades and the curtain rises you can always count on a healthy portion of enthusiastic song 'n’ dance, a conflict-ridden second act before an enormously satisfying resolution which itself precedes another 30 minutes of clapping and bowing. But then along comes Impromptunes: The Completely Improvised Musical which takes this dusty old format and injects it with an unadulterated concoction of excitement, danger and hilarity.
The premise is simple: the audience provide a title and eight talented performers (including an invaluable pianist) create a fully-fledged musical without any prior discussion or preparation. It’s an inspired concept that really highlights the exhilaration of pure spontaneity. The improvisers exhibit a remarkable ‘group mind’ as they continuously suggest and react to each other’s narrative, melodic and comedic proposals with such intuitive ease. Despite limited space on the modest Trades Hall's Annexe stage, the limelight is shared with great grace as the eight individual performers transform themselves into one cohesive unit of improv goodness.
Much of Impromptunes’ success is indebted to the flexibility of the format. Scenes can last for little as 30 seconds or as long as 10 minutes. Any performer is free to interject at a moment’s notice as a brand new or reoccurring character. And you never know when a character is going to burst into song or a dance routine. Without any props, costume or stage design the performance is entirely dependent on the creativity and talent of its performers. The chosen title of the night, ‘Ice Cream Has No Bones’, doesn’t initially appear like much to work with. However, within the first few minutes, the performers have established several leading characters, a catchy opening number and a tight plot revolving around a new girl to the neighbourhood who is forbidden from eating icemcream by her health-obsessed mother.
Of course, the improvised hijinks don’t strike gold every time, but that’s half the fun of the show. It’s the joy of watching talented performers take on a challenge and attempt to cobble together a coherent plot, infectious tunes and, most importantly, a whole lotta laughs. Joyful is probably the best word to sum up Impromptunes. A regular musical is usually upbeat enough as it is – add an extra dollop of improvised comedy on top and you’ll be positively skipping home afterwards. With 22 completely unique performances on offer at the festival, it’s well worth your time.