The Uncertainty Division

Improvised theatre

Pronto Panto

This is the first show I’ve been to where I’ve been handed a piece of paper along with my ticket, told to write an insulting rhyming couplet on it, drop it in a bucket on-stage and wait for one of the actors to use it in the play. The giggles this produced in the pre-show audience more or less set the tone for the evening’s entertainment.

Impromime takes the idea of audience participation to a new level - as quickly as spectators call out suggestions, the performers turn them into a fully-fledged pantomime, complete with busty dame, song-and-dance routines and shouts of “he’s behind you!”

An improvised play is a truly remarkable feat, and the five members of The Uncertainty Division manage to pull it off with impish élan, twisting and folding suggestions shouted out by the audience into surreal verbal origami. The show I saw turned into a sort of Dr. Zhivago-meets-Douglas Adams Russian epic, involving an exasperated baker, a vodka-drinking ballet company and a horde of rampaging, biscuit-gobbling squirrels.

It really is very, very funny. The audience was laughing pretty much the whole way through. Laughter aside, however, the audience was probably the worst thing about the show.

When performers are as good as this it is a shame that the spectators weren’t slightly less inhibited - the boos, hisses and silly suggestions would not have gone amiss. The friends I saw it with, however, were firm Impromime converts by the time the cast had sung their final song. “I can’t believe it’s improvised,” declared my friend Ceri. “How do they do it?”

“We spend a lot of time in improv workshops,” says founding member James Lark, when I corner the performers afterwards to ask how it is done. “We play games, practice sketches… It can be learned!” he adds, when I wonder if perhaps they possess some mystic comedy gene that the rest of us lack. Privately I am not so sure.

As a group, they give every impression of being effortlessly hilarious. In the dressing room they appear much as they do onstage, bantering and joking as every situation becomes a potential sketch.

Is anything, I wonder, off-limits? “Sometimes we get into situations where the humour becomes uncomfortable, it’s so dark,” muses blonde and bearded Andrew Ormerod, who played the pantomime dame with Tigger-ish bounce. “I remember stopping one sketches in a workshop when it had come to the point where I was missing most of my limbs… We have plenty of suicides, though!” he adds cheerfully.

Impromime is a theatrical experience unlike any other. Where else can you see evil villains, brave heroes, rampaging giant squirrels and get to choose what happens next? Bring your spangled tights and your sense of the ridiculous and go see it.

Elizabeth Dearnley

Originally published by The Cambridge Student.