Wednesday the 23rd of October saw The House of Improv kick off their brand-new show Unplanned-ersnatch at the Michael Pilch Studio Theatre with an audience-inspired and mollusc-loving hero, some delightfully incorrect science, and the kind of plot twists only improv could beget.
A fairly humble affair featuring minimalist staging, costuming, and scene transitions, the performance had all the traditional charm of improvised theatre. The mood for each scene wasv set by piano accompaniment, as well as the occasional use of single notes to great comic effect such as doorbells or to accompany physical actions such as characters poking one another.
Embracing the medium of improvised theatre, the performers were able to make light of slip-ups such as “Lincolnshire” morphing into “Lancashire” over the course of the evening. Another source of enjoyably self-aware entertainment was the prized “yellow/blue/pink/green” shell being a different set of colours in every scene. The long form comedy format meant that jokes could be built upon steadily, creating a strong sense of audience familiarity even within just the hour. Repeated references generated much hilarity over the course of the show, as did the sexual insinuations of “carbonara sauce”.
The somewhat bland and sexist plot was redeemed by its self-consciously overplayed approach, making an enjoyable caricature of the whole cast. In fact, characterisation was easily the show’s strongest suit – characters were very distinct, sporting some great accents and mannerisms which ultimately rendered them all loveable in their own way. When audience members were given the choice of how two characters should interact, there was a palpable sense of personal investment in each character’s story. This was demonstrated in the competing cheers for each alternative story line option, with audience members either strongly rooting for a character or driven by morbid curiosity to see them fail. At the start of the performance, suggestions for a name and profession were taken from the audience and assigned at random to each cast member to produce an array of potential protagonists for audience to choose from. Whilst suggestions such as “Late Night Nigel: candle-maker” elicited much laughter, Will’s physicality and voice-acting quickly gained the majority vote. The appearance of a Hungarian genie-in-the-mollusc proved an audience hit with quotes such as “if it could be grounded in the language of molluscs, I would appreciate that”.
Although the show ultimately works towards a happy ending, the audience are given the pleasure of witnessing a number of false starts as the plot is allowed to derail into a depressing ending which is then “rewound” in a very literal way. Characters’ actions are played out in reverse at high speed until they return to the point where audience members were last given a choice in the narrative. This rather unique story telling device places an increased emphasis on the “what if”s that are intrinsic to improv, highlighting the many different ways that a story can play out based on both the actors’ improvisation and the audience’s participation. Presented with a choice, one cannot help but wonder what would have happened if the alternative had been selected, and Unplanned-ersnatch playfully offers an answer – albeit just one of many possibilities – to this question. Ultimately, however, you will want to go see this show again to determine just how differently things could have played out.