Newcastle Improv Festival – REVIEW – Triple Bill Open Heart Theatre , Couch Improv and 4 – 1 night only

So, it was back to the Alphabetti theatre yesterday for a triple bill of shows from both local groups and the visiting Couch Improv.

We started off with Open Heart Theatre who performed a format I hadn’t seen before and really  enjoyed. The suggestion from the audience was fire station, but the performers also took the suggestion of what the building had now become. Two of the players were dressed in white and portrayed the spirits of the past. This allowed them to clap to freeze frame the action and add extra detail about the building’s past. They also painted the scene, adding details such as the huge metal doors which were to provide much hilarity later when the arts centre characters interacted with them. I enjoyed the use of these characters and although at times their additions didn’t always add to what was going on the scene, their cheeky nature has potential to be expanded on.

The performers were all very strong and I particularly enjoyed Gwyndovieve who marched on with haughtiness and cutting remarks “Is this on purpose?”  when looking at a child’s crayon drawing. She also did some amazing work with her eyes in reacting to other characters, not dropping character at all. I also loved the physicality of the character Dennis, whose fumbling at the door had the audience in fits of laughter. The team clearly worked well together and the narrative began to make sense after some initial ideas were explored. If anything, I think I would have liked to see some of the relationships more developed, but for a debut performance of a new format, with such a lot going on, perhaps I am being a bit greedy.

Excellent character work, an interesting format with great potential

Rating: ***’ 3.5 stars.

We then saw Couch Improv, from Glasgow, who immediately made sure that they didn’t get the usual improv suggestions of foods or animals. This meant that the word freedom as taken, giving the initial monologues a lot more variety and depth. The performers squeezed out every aspect of the word from pirate captors, to a dad obsessed with his kid being allowed to fail and a library with incredibly strict borrowing procedures. Little games crept up immediately like the mispronunciation of James Joyce books which had the audience giggling from the start.

A press conference was delightfully silly with the participants talking off their face masks at the end all being Mel Gibson. This weirdly became a running theme featuring throughout the show , but that’s Improv !

The Harold format developed into the second beats with further exploration of the guy who just wanted to be noticed and tortured and how he might be at home. The failure girl couldn’t even open the door and the library now lent out a range of automatic weapons. Each scene was played for humour and in the most part worked very well. It was full of energy and strong characters, which the audience and I thoroughly enjoyed.

Wrapping up the Harold and weaving everything back together effortlessly, the team did a great job and were enjoyable to watch. It was a very strong performance of a classic format.

We then had an opportunity to see the Couch team do their Spotify Prov format. The audience had picked songs on the playlist in the interval and these were played at random to inspire scenes.  From 99 Red Balloons, we had a hilarious scene of hitchhikers at a crossroads meeting Satan (brilliantly characterised). The Red Dwarf theme took us into an escape room setting, with a clever call back to the torture guy. Billy Joel’s- Always a Woman took us to the meeting of Medusa and her human boyfriend’s flatmates and Wuthering Heights was a short but sweet repetition of the key chorus.

I really enjoyed the format and could see the playfulness of the team come out as they created quick and silly scenes with fewer rules than a Harold.

 I definitely recommend that you see Couch Improv. Each of the performers was  incredibly skilful, effortlessly created strong characters and worked brilliantly with each other. Put them on your playlist!

Rating: **** 4 stars


Finally, we had 4 – 1 night only, an improvised radio play. This was a format I hadn’t seen before and was really interested in.  The microphones were set up and Bev introduced the format and the myriad of characters. I really wasn’t sure how it might all pan out and wondered how the performers would remember all the information, but Bev kept it all together with her narration.

One of the things I really enjoyed was seeing Ian on the laptop having fun with the sound effects, ripping up paper and finding cooing baby noises. I liked the fact that this was all visible to the audience. The performers themselves did a great job with their many roles. I particularly enjoyed the generic maid and the incompetent doctor. I think at some points the scene was perhaps over explained before we saw what we had just been told. I think as the format develops this will become less of an issue and I can totally understand that on this airing it was all done to support the performers in what was quite a tricky format. In fact the chemistry and ease of interaction between the players was something I really enjoyed watching.

An interesting new concept, very funny and lots of potential .

Rating: ***’ 3.5 stars  

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