Cross a bare stage with some energetic IMPROVables and what do you get? One night of spirited good fun! With almost no props save for one or two chairs, the IMPROVables carried their audience away on singular and rambunctious journeys during which Taylor Swift gets married to Yoda, and Justin Bieber loses his teddy bear in Mordor .
In an exuberant and proficient display of their skill, the NUS IMPROVables certainly fulfilled their objectives by not only reducing their audience to fits of laughter but by keeping them laughing throughout the show, an endeavour that is much harder than it sounds for those not acquainted with improvisational theatre. When done well, improvisational theatre is witty, incredibly creative, and keeps audiences in side-splitting bouts of laughter. When it falls flat, the actors risk alienating themselves from their audience with awkward, circular storylines and blundering jokes. Happily, ‘Spontaneously Combusting’ was handled very well with considerable wit and panache. There were only very minor hiccups along the way when certain storylines became a bit circular.
The two hour show appeared to be styled after the American improvisational comedy television series ‘Whose Line Is It Anyway’ and the performance was divided into twelve improvisation games, with each game kept short to maintain the show’s pace. Considering that the lifeblood of successful improvisation is change and pace, this was a smart way of organising their performance and the IMPROVables struck an admirable balance between giving their actors sufficient time to craft an entertaining narrative and in ‘wiping’ off a scene once it was clear that it could no longer develop. Thanks to these efforts, the audience was not given time to get bored.
The improvisation games were considerably varied, where the number of participants at any one time ranged from just two to the entire cast. Almost every game required participation from the audience who on their part did not hesitate to supply outlandish cues for the actors to work on, culminating in ludicrous narratives where teenagers are packed off to Antarctica to ‘burn their childhoods in the fires of reality’, and where bakers bake fifty shades of bread.
What I enjoyed most, however, were the lively musical games in which actors displayed incredible talent and prowess, rapping and belting ballads on the spot about the most random topics such as how coffee might cure split ends.
Altogether, ‘Spontaneously Combusting’ was a vivacious and accomplished demonstration of improvisational theatre techniques. The IMPROVables were very responsive to each other, working together well to add new information to keep their storylines fresh and evolving, and displayed great creativity and faithfulness in adhering to the eccentric cues suggested by their audience. They provided colourful details that helped the audience to visualize and engage with the scenes onstage, and exhibited a rather mischievous wit by making references to comical moments in earlier scenes that only cemented their rapport with their audience.
Frankly, I was impressed by the level of skill displayed by the IMPROVables which I was not expecting of a largely self-taught student group. To improvise a narrative that is coherent, quick-witted and which progresses successfully out of cues that are provided on the spur of the moment is a very demanding task. Yet, there were many such golden moments in ‘Spontaneously Combusting’ where the IMPROVables successfully fulfilled all of these concurrent demands. During such moments, I as an audience member felt completely engaged and at ease with the actors, trusting that the scene would be well-delivered and feeling validated when it was done so.
That being said, some of their actors were much stronger than the others, and their best scenes were when two or more of their strongest actors were grouped together. In the scenes where a stronger actor was paired with a weaker actor, the storyline tended to get circular, repetitive and just a little awkward when the weaker actor was unable to maintain the narrative or respond as creatively to cues. There were some uncomfortable pauses here and there when some actors would appear at a loss for words, stuttering and looking very flustered. However such instances were relatively few and far between. In any case, improvisational theatre is extremely challenging and on the whole the NUS IMPROVables did a brilliant job, keeping their audience in convulsions of laughter from start to finish.
I would gladly recommend the NUS IMPROVables for those keen to watch some skilled improvised comedy, and a night of rollicking good fun.