Paul, Cariad, David, Rob, Phil, Glue

Such a great night at The Miller last night I felt inspired to write about it.

We had a first half of Cariad Lloyd and Paul Foxcroft doing impro together, with support from band The Glue Ensemble. I’m not exaggerating when I say it was probably one of the best impro shows I’ve ever seen.

They just take a word from the audience (I can’t even remember what it was) and then make up lots of connected scenes off the back of it.

What was so great about it is I couldn’t really word why it was so great, as I was too busy enjoying it. If anything I would say it was its beautiful complexity in its own simplicity.

I watch a lot of impro, which you kind of have to if you run a venue, so I usually have a bit of impro immunity. It’s quite unusual for me to laugh out loud at an impro show, and even then I kind of see the technique behind the actors.

However with Paul and Cariad I just saw two real human characters on stage that made me laugh, and I laughed a lot, and I really cared about them a lot! Also I really felt that the actors were constantly surprising themselves, without planning, which meant I was constantly surprised and intrigued. Even before going on stage Cariad happened to mention to me the dangers of being typecast in impro, and I could really see her come to life when she played a wife-beating deep south red neck man. Cariad and Paul immediately embraced all characters, while keeping a real human touch.

One scene that really stood out for me was a brother and sister reading the diary of their dead mother. They started off as cold towards each other but as they read the diary (in silence, except for music), you could see their relationship warm up and the years peel away until they revealed the young brother and sister love they had previously lost. It was incredibly touching, and even from the back of the room we were drawn in.

Not many people could have pulled that off. Was it the silence? In my opinion no, it wasn’t that, as I’ve seen improvisers try and pull off the being silent thing and it fails because their thought energy is outside the scene. But in this case it worked a treat because they were entirely focussed on each other and the complexity of the relationship. Even though they were in silence there were constant games going on – if Paul held up a slice of pizza, Cariad ate it, if the pages were turned back too quick they stopped and re-read.

And I think the games were another theme throughout the shows – games on multiple levels – verbal, physical, emotional, over small narrative arcs and over the whole shows. Sometimes they would delay the ongoing narrative, not because they were scared or bridging, but so that they could play games and add depth to the show.

Paul is also an exceptional physical comedian. His character pulling a hot beef boullion out of the over, burning their fingers, and then doing it all over again was incredibly funny and impossible to put into words. So trust me, it was incredibly funny.

In fact I really loved watching Paul (I haven’t actually seen him perform before) as he’s really funny and witty, physically and verbally, and yet he’s also completely grounded in the reality of the scene and character. It was nice to see someone with huge amounts of energy and humour but with it completly balanced and pointing in the right direction, in fact I learnt a lot from it.

Balance is perhaps my closing word for the show – it was like eating a really good meal in a really good restaurant. You can’t quite work out why it’s so much better than all the other meals, it’s just that is everything is so perfectly balanced.

After that we also had David Shore, Rob Broderick, Phil Whelans, Cariad Lloyd and Paul Foxcroft performing together. As a bloke running an impro venue this is so awesome, as I really respect all of them and to have them all together was really special.

They performed a long-form montage, again inspired by a single word that I can’t remember. There were lots of rapid scenes, edited by sweep edits and with characters changing from tap outs.

Now I don’t think it’s too much of a secret that I’m not usually too much of a fan of long form techniques. I quite often find sweep edits and tag out distracting from a show and they are done rather self-conciously in my opinion.

However I think this show might have changed my mind a bit, as it was more like watching a really good sketch show, with lots of rapid scenes and funny characters and genuninly good impro.

The sweep edits and tag outs were barely noticeable – there was no sense from the audience of ‘what the hell is that meant to be?’ They were instead done really quickly and subtly so that the focus was on the actual scenes.

Also what I loved about the show, and David Shore thinks this too, is that long-form doesn’t have to mean short-form. I always felt a bit put off from long-form for ages because I always thought it was too slow to put in a comedy club, but actually there show was lightening quick and really funny.

Also it looked like great fun to be in, a real challenge and freedom for the improvisers.

David Shore was great and what I love is that he was having fun on stage and letting loose. When you’re running so many workshops and have such a good reputation it must tough to turn up and let it all go, but he looked really free.

I loved Phil Whelans too, I can’t believe I hadn’t seen more of him. I loved his commitment. I always say you’re either on stage or your off, so don’t hang around in the middle, and he really embodied this. He was excellent at raising the stakes in a brave manner with big characters that the audience wanted to pick up and hold on to.

Last but not least Rob Broderick, who I’ve alway had a slight man crush on and is possibly the friendliest most helpful person in the world of comedy. He’s like the Dave Grohl of comedy. I’ve seen him in loads of shows now and I don’t think I’ve ever seen him miss an offer, ever. Everything someone says to him he’ll pick up on, justify, agree and add not just one details but an incredibly specific detail. Seamingly unimportant offers suddenly becomes gem of comedy and story.

So all in all a fantastic night and made me feel happy. Many thanks for everyone involved and everyone who came along to watch.

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