dpm is a Birmingham-based freelancer with experience of arts and lifestyle features.
Fast and furious humour
Birmingham's first Improv Festival kicked off with a riotous evening featuring four acts across three shows.
The Inflatables began the programme with a series of short games and sketches, Project 2 took the audience to outer space, Ghost Couple took them back to a mythical Stonehenge and Peablossom Cabaret took them just about anywhere they wanted to go.
The joy of improv is that you never quite know what you are going to get. With each show being unique and based on audience input, the same programme on a different evening would be a totally different set of shows.
The Inflatables' cast of five ran through an hour of madcap games – each inspired by scenarios and words from the audience. One moment they were improvising a poem about Jamaica, the next a story about a ladle and the next an elimination game based on letters of the alphabet. All was quick-fire and off the cuff with the most bizarre combinations of scenarios, accents and song being the ones to provoke the biggest laughs.
The second show of the evening featured two acts of half an hour each. Project 2 offer science fiction inspired improv. When audience members suggested suspended animation as the scenario, the duo were off with a story about Mary – the woman being unfrozen to ensure the future of the human race. Performers Katy Schutte and Chris Mead switched and changed between humans, aliens and intergalactic settings without a pause.
Ghost Couple features Ruth Bratt and Dylan Emery, two of the cast of the hit improv production Showstopper! And when they were given the setting of Stonehenge they rose to the occasion, creating a host of memorable characters and intertwined stories from a druid and worker attempting to build the ancient site, through to an intellectual couple attempting to understand it and two young hippies attempting to harness its energies.
Between them, these three shows had set a hard act to follow but the final performers, Peablossom Cabaret, more than managed. Dylan Towney as Mr Pea and Sylvia Bishop as Miss Blossom create an improv musical show based solely on stories provided by the audience – and the results are simply amazing. Towney's musical skills saw him present one story in the guise of Stevie Wonder, Cole Porter, Stephen Sondheim and Radiohead to much hilarity. And Sylvia was busy producing rhyme at an incredible rate – she must have an entire dictionary stored away in her brain.
Together they took what felt like quite mundane stories – 'I crashed my car', 'I ran out of tea' or 'My friend gets me drunk' into hilarious musical sketches which caught the very essence of each tale with humour and flare. These performers are definitely a duo to look out for.
Festival organiser Jon Trevor has worked hard to bring Birmingham Improv together at the city's Blue Orange Theatre and, if the second and third nights are as good as the first, he'll soon be at work organising the next one.
The weekend continues with workshops and performances including Showstopper! and the Glenda J Collective with Josie Lawrence on Saturday and Sunday. See birminghamimprovfestival.com for details.