It’s Beginning To Improv A Lot Like Christmas – INTERVIEW – The Suggestibles, Impro Pantso

Welcome to a special themed set of interviews for the lead up to Christmas – celebrating all the wonderful festive shows that are on this year. I have sat down with a bunch of troupes to find out more about the shows that they are performing.

This week a show that is a MUST see is starting in Newcastle and it is so popular that it becomes the talk of the town every year. From the 13th of December to the 21st The Suugestibles are touring the North East with their Impro Pantso. The show will be at the Northern Stage, Gala Theatre, Hexham Queens Hall plus many more locations which you can book tickets for here 

I caught up with Bev Fox to find out all about this years show.

Hello Bev tell us all about The Suggestibles?

 The Suggestibles is an improv comedy group in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. We play two monthly residencies at The Cumberland Arms (our home venue for 15 years) and The Stand Comedy Club (we’ve been there coming up 6 years) and more gigs besides. Our regular 2-hour Suggestibles’ shows are made up of improv games and a long-form musical in the second half “Aspects of…” The Suggestibles’ tag-line is “You supply the suggestions. We supply the laughs!” That pretty much says what it does on the tin.

There’s 6 of us in the Suggestibles. Myself and Ian McLaughlin (my other half) founded the Suggestibles, Carl Kennedy (another original member), Rachel Glover, Tom Walton and Alex Ross – our musician who also ‘acts’ in the parts that don’t require music (plus John Mawer is a regular guest and plays in our Xmas show). The line-up has had changes since we started, but this has been our core team for since we’ve been at The Stand.

The Suggestibles has had well over 50 guests since we started, from our old London improv chums and local improvisers. We run The Suggestibles’ School of Improv, which has also been going about 15 years. We run 3 levels of classes, and host 2 other monthly shows at Alphabetti Theatre – Rat Race (tournament style) and 4 1 Night Only (long-form).

What is the show that you are bringing to the stage in this Festive season?

The Suggestibles’ Impro Pantso – No Script. No Score. No Kids! (There’s no way you could bring kids to the Pantso, or any of our regular Suggestibles’ shows as they’re all pretty edgy). Our Impro Pantso is a fully blown improvised pantomime for adults, which tours North East Theatres each December. The Pantso is special as we get all the lights, tech support and production values of a mainstage theatre, and that plays a big part in the inspiration for each performance.

Again, it’s been a long-running show. Ian and I presented our first Newcastle Panto at Live Theatre in 2002, then every year at the Cumberland Arms since The Suggestibles formed proper in 2004. Northern Stage offered us a night on their mainstage (on their Christmas Carol set) in 2008 which sold out, and it’s just got bigger year on year. We’ve built strong relationships with venues up here, so they trust us J to rock up onto whatever Christmas set they have – and to pull big audiences. Northern Stage has been especially brilliant in supporting us. We always play 2 nights there now in their epic space (500+ capacity in the round) and we have access to their amazing costume department for the whole tour too!

The birth of the Impro Pantso goes back to 1991, when we produced a mini-tour in London – with a little help from Cadburys who sponsored us. At the time, we were members of the Impro Musical Company founded by Alan Marriot and Anthony Ingle, with Philip Pellew, Suki Webster and Niall Ashdown who made-up the core cast, along with more great improvisers from the scene at that time, and special guest-star villains each night – Josie Lawrence, Mike McShane, Richard Vranch and Tony Hawkes. It was simply called ‘Impro Panto’ then. We decided to revive it when we moved back up North. It found its new name because of a random ‘S’ in a draft poster. We kept it, and the ‘Impro Panto’ became the ‘Impro Pantso’ (typical improv mistake!)

Will there be a bit of festivity in your show?

 It is drenched in festivity! As the audience arrives, the ushers are wearing reindeer horns and handing out sweets from Santa sacks. There’s always a big participation spot with silly prizes to be won, and at the end it’s become tradition to do The Suggestibles’ 12 Days of Xmas. 12 members of the audience write down their own suggestion cards for the 1st to 12th day, and we sing it as the grand finale. To give you an idea (and this tells you why the posters say No Kids) 5 Gold Rings often becomes 5 Cock Rings. However, our favourite and most inventive thus far is 5 Chandler Bings!

We like to be very free in how we improvise. We’re best when it feels dangerous. We have a loose format to the Pantso which tends to become more bastardised as we progress. We want to tell a story, and to ensure the audience gets what they want from a pantomime. That means including the tropes of the genre you might expect. In advance, we figure out a bunch of ‘Ask-fors’ to help take us on that journey (e.g. a quest, villainous vice, a spell). Ian usually plays the ‘Buttons’ type host who gets the suggestions throughout. There’ll be a hero and a villain for sure (none gender or species specific!) mythical creatures, lots of singing and dancing, and a crazy amount of Christmas from start to finish.

What are your favourite things about the festive season and why?

 I love the twinkly lights. Love ‘em. Can’t get enough twinkly lights. My favourite night is the last night of the Pantso tour at our home venue, the Cumberland Arms. When the show’s over, we gather with audience to have a big sing. When it comes to Christmas itself, I love party games. Even more than twinkly lights!

This time of year the venues tend to be a bit busier as well – do you find that the audience changes at all?

 Yes. They go crazy! And it’s exciting for us. New people discover the Suggestibles because we play so many venues, and then there’s more who come every year as their traditional Xmas treat. Personally, I always feel that’s very special – that people have chosen to come to our show for their Christmas night out. That means a lot. I always think of that before I go on.

If there’s one thing for sure – the audience will be in high party spirits and most will be very drunk! That means un-inhibited with their suggestions!! Our hardest job is to hear the great idea from a single voice out of a baying throng. Then, it’s all about the choices we make. The bigger the crowd, the harder that is to do, and we can get bad enough on our own. Sometimes we slap ourselves over the face afterwards, and tell each other to behave next night. One night we can be in the round to 500, the next playing to the stalls and circle, the then to an intimate 150. Every night is a new challenge, a different beast, and we can never rest on our laurels.

What advice would you give for people performing around the festive season – is it important to drop a Christmas related theme into it?

Love your audience! Get to know them. It’s all about the audience – and the fun you have ‘together’. If you think your audience will like a special festive show, then yes, make it especially festive for them – and go for it! Just popping on a reindeer jumper doesn’t really cut the mustard.

The core cast of the Impro Pantso may be the same as our regular Suggestibles’ shows, but they are marketed entirely differently as they are entirely different shows. How you promote your show is important, and like any good improv show – promises should be fulfilled. If you theme it, then it should enhance the show, not dilute it. Always set out to give your audience a great experience, give them what they want, but don’t forget you’ve got to want that too!

What is the best thing about a night at The Suggestibles Impro Pantso for the audience?

They get to behave like kids without any kids there.

#If people want to find out more about you where can they follow you on social media? 

https://www.facebook.com/suggestibles/

https://www.facebook.com/schoolofimprov/

https://twitter.com/Suggestibles

https://twitter.com/schoolofimprov

https://www.instagram.com/the_suggestibles/

 

# What is YOUR favourite show you have done this year and why?

We guested Tony Slattery recently. It was anarchic! Our group has a great chemistry. We feel safe with each other to take risks. The more the risk, the more memorable show. Well, that night, we were on the edge! We became even more connected because of it, and our following show at the Stand, which was heaving, had a special relaxed focus and energy about it. I think sometimes a challenge sends up a notch, and that’s how it felt.

And Finally, in three words – Why should people come and see the show?

Laughter. Christmas. Surprise!

CHRISTMAS QUICK FIRE ROUND


Best Christmas cracker joke and why?

The punchline is – he was fucking crackers. I have a dirty mind.

Favourite Christmas film and why?

The Sound of Music. It’s the best film ever made.

What do you want for Christmas this year?

Some real time with my family.

What is the best adaptation in YOUR opinion of A Christmas Carol?

The Black and White with Alistair Sim as Scroodge – watched with my gran and it’s everlasting.

Brussel Sprouts – Love or hate?

Hate. Tradition gone mad!

Favourite Christmas pop song?

Fairytale Of New York, of course.

Can you name what happens on the 12 days of Christmas in the song?

Yes, it rhymes with 12 Drummers Drumming (according to our audience)

Favourite Christmas Food and why?

Cheese. An on-going snack to offset the booze.

Were you ever part of a nativity play at school? What role were you given?

I think I was a shepherd. Could have been a sheep. It’s very vague.

What is your favourite Christmas episode of any TV show.

The Royle Family

A big important question is Die Hard a Christmas film?

Nope!

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