The excitement of live theatre is that every performance is different; youíre always at an absolutely unique event. This is even more true of Improbable Theatreís shows; they make a point of leaving room for spontaneity, and thrive on the risk that something altogether unpredictable might happen. Lifegame is a kind of staged biography, but they donít even know who the nightís subject is until itís showtime.
It works like this: the guest for the night comes out and is interviewed by Lee Simpson. A clutch of other performers, led by Phelim McDermott, sit at one side, listening intently. When the interviewee mentions something that sounds as if it would make an interesting scene, they improvise it. Sometimes thereís music, sometimes song, sometimes wacky design elements, sometimes itís played quite straight.
Each nightís guest for this run has some connection or other with the venue, the National Theatre. On Wednesday night, it was former NT artistic director Richard Eyre; when I saw it on Thursday, the interviewee was health & safety officer Tony Harley. Who? Exactly Ė itís a lottery. But itís not fame or glitter that makes good material. Indeed, the best scenes are of events we can all relate to.
At the show I saw, scenes included a family dinner and Tonyís first kiss, as well as the time he was in a plane that lost pressure at 25,000 feet and a musical number about his stint as an RAF technician, sung with three planes! Obviously, some notions are going to work better than others. So it goes. Whatís special is getting to see ideas spark right there in front of you, like a professional game of letís-pretend.
Improbableís productions may vary in quality from show to show, or even from night to night. Thatís in the nature of the way the company works. But theyíre always well worth seeing, because they show you exactly what theatre is all about: trying to make magic moments out of thin air. And more than just showing you, they invite you in and make you realise that youíre just as much a part of it too.
Written for Teletext.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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