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Review: The Improvised Play (Arcola Theatre)

Review by Daz Gale

 

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

 

Theatre takes a while to get right, doesn’t it? It takes practice, rehearsals, and tweaks to ensure all lines are remembered and every beat hits as intended… or you could just make it up as you go along. That’s the premise of The Improvised Play, which, as the title suggests, makes up a 70-minute play on the spot. Just how do you begin to review a show like that? I have no idea, so in the spirit of the show, let’s also make it up as we go along.

 

The brainchild of Lola-Rose Maxwell and Charlie Kemp, The Improvised Play was born in December 2022 and has been fine-tuned ever since, coming up with its now definitive format. With a different show each performance, essentially every night is opening night and closing night, ensuring a once-in-a-lifetime performance. The concept of the show is decided by the audience with just three suggestions – the decade the play is set in, the location for it, and the title of the play. From there on, what happens is anyone’s guess… including the cast themselves.




For this particular performance, the suggestions were the Colosseum in Rome in the 1970s with the title ‘When In Rome’. From that, Charlie and Lola created the characters of Falula and Arnold – two English tourists visiting the Colosseum who have an instant connection despite their extreme differences. They end up creating a business selling ladies' bags together along the way bringing up snakes, a Prime Minister, and even murder… as you do.

 

To be honest, the content of the show is pretty irrelevant. It is the technique of how the pair gets there that speaks to the success of the show and is the element worth reviewing here. Clearly in tune with each other, Charlie and Lola follow the basic rules of improvisation, never being afraid to say yes to each other and going with the flow no matter how bizarre the other's suggestion is. The danger of not knowing where the story is going at any point creates a level of excitement which, in this instance, leads from a sudden change of murder to marriage – all in a day’s work.

 

It is Charlie and Lola’s connection to each other that truly impresses. Seemingly unphased by anything and ready to commit to anything with barely any stumbles, the cohesive nature of their performance (if not always the story) was a marvel to behold. Quick on their feet and extremely witty, they fill The Improvised Play with plenty of laughs meaning if the story doesn’t always prove to be the most riveting in the world, the inevitable laughter will be enough to make up for it.

 



Improvisation is not an easy skill. I have seen improv shows in the past that have varied substantially – from ones that blend seamlessly to others that are a complete mess with cast members talking over each other and never being on the same page. Luckily in The Improvised Play, the latter is not a problem with two performers perfectly connected and ready to make art in whatever form it takes. Charlie and Lola’s clear love for what they do is palpable and infectious, ensuring the audience buys into the madness of it all and can’t help but fall in love with it, even if we can’t always recount some of the plot points that led to the show’s conclusion.

 

With improvisation a growing trend in theatre, The Improvised Play sets itself up nicely alongside others who have dominated the scene in recent years such as Showstopper and Mischief Movie Night. Two immensely talented performers with a risky but ultimately riotous concept, Charlie and Lola are very clearly on to something here. With a concept this good, you really couldn’t make it up…

 

The Improvised Play plays at the Arcola Theatre until 9th March. Tickets from www.arcolatheatre.com

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