Invisible Wind Factory, Liverpool – until 14 May 2017
Firing on all cylinders – and “setting phasers to fun” with the introduction of each episode – this year’s Improvathon saw Liverpool’s premier improv performers back to their very best. With an intergalactic theme – The Space Age – and a rejuvinated sense of ambition for the marathon 33-and-a-half hour, non-stop show, dozens of performers, comedians and musicians from the city and beyond threw themselves into the challenge and created a unique sci-fi adventure bursting with unrehearsed laughs, song and drama.
Notably more settled into its new home of the Invisible Wind Factory than last year, the event is presented in two-hour long episodes and action is (kind of) recapped at the top of each one, so audience members without the luxury of 33 hours to spare can come and go. I saw only two episodes on Saturday night, and wished it was more.
The range of characters included everything from parodies (Angie Waller as Captain Jean Lucy Flickhard, a nod to Patrick Stewart in Star Trek; Paul Robinson as a Steve Jobs-alike tech guru with the brilliant name of Ted Talks) to futuristic must-haves like androids, Jedis and space pirates; from hilariously creative aliens (Ed Croft as space slug Queef and James Lloyd as bug paramour Pamela) to the downright meta (comedian Alistair Clarke spent the whole time as friend of the company and familiar face on the city’s cultural scene, Howard Storey, managing to create a really fun, quirky character whether you knew the real Howard or not). In jokes? Possibly – Impropriety have been performing this way for a long time, and there are married couples, siblings and close friends among the company – but it makes for a fun atmosphere that embraces and never excludes the audience, as director Rosie Wilkinson steers the (space) ship to create a coherent and addictive story in amongst the (space) madness.
And it works because there’s simply not a weak link among the cast or crew. The dedication and talent of all involved to make this happen is always simply awe-inspiring. Stand outs this year included Sally Hodgkiss as batty Floridian elder Wanda Why, with her inflatable flamingo, endless nonsensical tales and non sequiturs; Jak Malone as RuPaul’s Drag Race-inspired ‘supermodel of the universe’ Rio Ranged (well, MADEUP was always going to love that); and Becky Ilsley as ship’s cat and janitor Catmandu, who, in the episodes I saw, spent the whole time communicating in mews yet still acted out a very sweet and touching romance. With a Borg. (Yes really.)
There was, needless to say, plenty of infectious corpsing, but also some beautiful moments too, and you could tell the company took pride in crafting them. “That pay off took eight hours, but it was worth it!” I heard a volunteer enthuse to an audience member in delight at the end of one episode, after a stunning improvised ballad split up not one, but two unwitting and heartbroken couples forever. Comedy may be the driver of the Improvathon, but there’s certainly moments where you might find something in your eye.
Behind the scenes, a green screen and projector allowed more scope not only in terms of set design but plot devices and general fun; there were more props and costumes to distinguish ‘background characters’, live tweeters and bloggers kept up with the action, and once again artist Jazamin Sinclair produced a painting for each episode.
All in all, once again the Improvathon was a joy to experience, showcasing some incredible talent and creating unforgettable moments.