Wham Bam Improv!
Don't try to hide: spontaneous theatre returns at Belfast's Linen Hall Library
Wham Bam Improv! promise to let the audience decide what happens onstage. Knowing this, I have come prepared and arrive at the Linen Hall Library with fully developed emergency plots in my head, ready to rattle off if necessary.
I did not expect to be greeted by the actors before even taking off my jacket. Before I have the chance to carefully select a seat that allows me to hide from too much involvement, I am asked to come up with a line – any line – to write on a paper slip
Finding myself being involved already, I am relieved to see that my task is manageable and I scribble down the brilliant line ‘So sorry, I just spilled your glass of champagne'.
The chances of turning this line into a film quote are pretty bad, admittedly, but what do you expect from somebody who chooses a seat not in order to have a good view, but to avoid being detected?
Later in the evening, I am to regret choosing a seat at the back. But for now I feel safe. I settle in and watch the room filling up. The front rows are packed, because the actors usher the arrivals straight to the stage. Suspecting evil, I disregarded the advice.
Three of the performers are still lingering in the audience when Katie Richardson begins to sing 'The Wham Bam Blues'.
Julie Maxwell, Rosie McClelland and Patrick Sanders join the snotty melody with a creative soundtrack of snuffling and clearing throats. Declaring that they too have the Wham Bam Blues, they slowly advance to the stage.
In the action that follows, we get to preview the new movie of a celebrated director who hasn’t decided yet what kind of movie he wants to make. Indecisive as he is, he needs suggestions from the audience and ends up trying out various genres.
Apparently the suggestions aren't right because in the end the director insists on his own submission and stages a musical. After all, the actors have a loophole and certain ways to perform what they want.
This is not to say that the actors always knew what would happen. It is clear that the dialogues are created on the spot and there are difficulties when things get a bit chaotic. How do you present 'second-word-amnesia', for example?
The audience, however, is sympathetic in the moments of hesitation, and on the edge of their seats to see how the comical situations are resolved.
In fact, the hesitation is what makes the show credible. It’s the risk of the genre to stumble every once in a while. Isn’t the audience only waiting for the actor to pause? And what a relief when the show goes on.
It's almost too perfect when the audience’s lines come to play their part. Imagine a classroom, teaching etiquette and table manners. Just about every line drawn from the hat turns out to be about food. Having the honour to have been quoted with my own superb line, I can testify for the fun and authenticity of the game.
The actors use stage and floor for the sketches and sometimes, it's hard to see what’s going on. My reluctance to sit near the front leaves me with a sore neck, as I crane to see and strain to hear amidst tremendous laughter and cheering.
The show ends with a final draw from the hat, and each performer gets to say one more line. Richardson's turns out to be: ‘I want to be an actor!’ I can only say hats off to Katie and Wham Bam Improv!, for tonight they prove themselves stars.