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Improvised plays from Austin, Texas – at Edinburgh

Tuesday, 30 August, 2011

Solid improvisation

Edinburgh – the Spaces on the Mile – 5-27 August 2011 – 1940 (45 mins)

Opening the show, Roy Janik explains that tonight’s show will be an improvised version of Grimm’s Fairy Tales and is the company’s 385th ensemble performance. The cast are all donning brown costumes with a rustic hint – jerkins and trousers for the men and smocks and skirts for the women. Unlike the majority of improvised shows, there are no suggestions from the audience. As a result it’s impossible to know what is coming through for the very first time or what ideas may have arisen in previous performances. On the technical side, the lights and sound may have been pre-arranged or are being winged by the technician.

It becomes a play within a play as two grandparents are seemingly telling their grandchildren stories. The relationship within the four is established, with the children given the names Heinrich and Heidel, and with a few initial jokes made about the grandfather’s hearing there is a clear skill for comedy here. A later joke is made about the weather and the joy of flyering to promote shows to potential audience members in Edinburgh – admittedly not necessarily strictly within the Grimm’s Fairy Tales theme but still there for the audience’s amusement.

The performers have little apart from their ingenuity to work with –  a few simple props including a wooden bird can get worked into the piece, and at one point the technician gave them classical music in the background but it’s really for the actors to choose the direction they go in and to support each other doing so.

It certainly felt that they worked very well together and were receptive to each other’s ideas. It’s not always particularly innovative – at one point a king is described as lazy and the actor concerns demonstrates the king’s state by a protracted yawn – but the performers are engaging to watch.

The difficulty with long form improvisation is shaping the work to have a beginning, middle and an end as well as sticking to the time limits which are laid down upon Edinburgh shows.  Parallelogramophonograph certainly seem to have a skill for this and their ability to return to some of the elements raised earlier in the show displays a good level of attention to detail and the listening skills which skilled improvisers must make use of. In order to present a slightly different challenge, perhaps it would be interesting for the performers to take some suggestions from the audience at the beginning and then craft them into the piece throughout. These four performers would almost certainly be able to face that challenge with aplomb and confidence.

Performers: Kareem Badr, Kaci Beeler, Roy Janik, Valerie Ward.

Produced by Parallelogramophonograph

© Chandrika Chevli 2011

Reviewed on Thursday August 24th, the Spaces on the Mile.

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