How can you preview a show which defines itself by resisting premeditation? Each night, from the moment their feet scrape the boards, Impromime could go anywhere. There is no script, no plan, just a piano, a raucous audience and five very gutsy actors. The result is a cross between Thornton Wilder and The Mighty Boosh. Everything becomes mime-able, from chairs turning into cars to a woolly hat morphing into a belligerent octopus.
This healthy disrespect for reality is accommodated by a thicket of plot twists which grow increasingly bizarre. The woolly-hat octopus, for example, enters the story by falling out of a shop-lifter’s cleavage. Well, of course she had an octopus in her cleavage; how else would she convince the shop staff she was a woman and thus disguise her true identity as an alien terrorist plotting to blow up France? Quite logical, really.
The octopus proceeds to hurl itself at the other members of the cast in a manner reminiscent of the face-hugger from Alien. Perhaps the weirdest thing of all was how this mixing-bowl of mad ideas solidified into a coherent plot - they even squeezed in some political comment, placating the alien terrorists by making them arms dealers to the Middle East.
Of course, none of this will appear when you see Impromime – unless, when they ask for a subject at the beginning, you shout “alien terrorists” – but it illustrates the versatility of the cast, if not the method in their madness. The Cambridge quartet name their show from a compound of “improvised” and “pantomime”, challenging the archetypes of traditional storytelling.
Why can’t Aladdin chop down the beanstalk? Why can’t Cinderella marry the Genie? Impromime presents itself as a radical counter-measure to safe, predictable drama, fashioning every performance to the suggestions of the audience; even the songs are made up on the spot.
The show will not be to everyone’s taste, its relative value depending on your tolerance for jaunty absurdism in the Monty Python vein, and the freshness of spontaneous performance can easily wither into boring, unfunny self-indulgence. Nevertheless, there’s plenty of sing-a-longs and audience interaction to enjoy, and, at just under an hour, Impromime does not outstay its welcome. Expect the unexpected.
Originally published by The Oxford Student.