Liverpool Improvathon

This weekend I was lucky enough to be one on the performers in Liverpool’s annual ‘Improvathon’, a 33 hour long show organised by fellow Mersey based improv troupe Impropriety, and it was pretty amazing. I’ll hold my hand up now and say I wasn’t in all of it, as a guest being my first one I partook in around 20 hours of it. The theme for the shows was a fairy tale, and it was epic and sweeping but I know what you’re thinking, how does such a thing even work?

It’s based on a show developed in Australia called a ‘Soap-a-thon’ where previous shows at the Adelaide Improv Festival have run to fifty two hours! Each performer picks a character and the scenes roll on in hour long chunks with a fifteen minute break after each one for the audience to strech their legs and the performers to re-group. Hang on that’s cheating! No, not really.

Before taking part I had no idea how it would work and envisaged an epic ‘relay race’ where performers tag teamed each other from one scene to the next for the whole duration, which of course would be exhaustive for both performers and those watching, the narrative would sprawl and audience members would be lumbered with an ‘if I go to the loo I might miss a plot point’ dilemma. Hence very breaks are needed, to keep it fresh and focussed.

The show I took part in had around twenty performers in it, all really talented guys. There was a sizeable contingent from London as well as former Comedysportz guys Mark Rawle and Sally Hodgkiss. I did feel like a bit of an outsider at first but I shouldn’t have, these are improvisers, and inclusivity and trust are just what they do. I just plugged in.

In the first half of my stint I was ‘Dennis Boggins’, the only Hobbit who works, then some hours later Rosie the director indulged my whim to switch character and I did a big fat ‘Yes And’ on doing some puppeteering. Ian, one on Liverpool’s guys had made some pretty awesome Jim Henson style puppets which fitted in really well with the fantasy aspects of the show. I’ve never done anything with puppets before. In The first scene I didn’t nail the lip syncing or a consistent accent. Then went off stage and had a personal crisis about what the hell I thought I was doing and I was rubbish at all of it. Then owned it. A couple of scenes later ‘Wispy Neil the forest messenger’ was singing and floating around like a pro. Not unlike sticking on my duffel coat for doing Danny Pensive, I could literally stand behind the character I was playing and observe the scene more objectively while still being present in it. Always learning.

As the hours rolled on, Rosie directed, or to be more specific I think, ‘curated’ the scenes lightly to give the show a narrative direction. In the short breaks highlighting to us performers particularly interesting plot threads which had evolved over time.

Audiences came and went, then came back, then slept, then woke up and carried on watching, both evenings were full until the early hours. Towards the end it became emotional as the lines between tired performers and their character blurred, creating some amazing scenes, powerful, funny and full of pathos.

At the thirty third hour there was still plenty of energy in the room, I could see how it was possible to do a fifty five hours show. Wow. I have a new found love of improv. I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

Photos by Patrick D’Arcy and Jo Na.

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Animated Gif.

 

animated_john

Mc’ing the Stand up half of the comedysportz Showcase.

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Pictures of Cats at Leicester Comedy Festival, 9th Feb 2014

Pictures of Cats show, this Sunday at 5pm at the Exchange bar, Leicester.

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Comic Stuff

Loads of stuff going on over on my new comics website, including my new strip “Best Job in the World” all about the fun, fun world of stand up.

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Atlantis Rising

Atlantis, the new BBC fantasy drama has just run it’s first season. Was it any good? Well I liked it. It’s slowly improved over the course of it’s run, the the final to parter has a great twist to it. It’s a tough time for telly, with Ripper being cancelled after only two series, but then Atlantis fills a different shaped gap, that ‘WHO’ shaped hole of family drama that can’t get two dark, despite all the deaths, and needs a good dollop of energy and ‘romp’ to it in order to keep the younger generation interested.  It’s never going to be Game of Thrones, but then it shouldn’t be, it’s got more to do. After a couple of duff episodes, all in all it has been great.

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Troughtongate, Doctor Who and the leaky Embargo

Twitter was full to bursting with Doctor Who fans yesterday as the BBC finally revealed which episodes of Doctor Who had been found. There was an embargo until midnight, but the news leaked out well beforehand. I was privy to snippets of information from various sources, as it came to pass the nine second doctor episodes had been unearthed by a chap who’d been poking around in Nigeria, “the Indiana Jones of television archives’. It’s a bit unusual that all the episode have been released straight to itunes, I’m pretty sure it’s partly the will of the bloke who found them knowing their value and wanting a cut of the reward. It’s a pretty epic find. Hard to image these tins of film have been lying on a shelf for over forty years. That’s before the Tom Baker or even Jon Pertwee became the doctor, and to be found this year of all years, is call for celebration.

 

As Fraser Hines said watching his younger self in the lost episodes, ‘it’s time travel’. It’s the power of memories and it resonates strongly with Who fans of all ages. ‘My doctor’, the one I grew up with has no missing episodes. All of Peter Davison’s episodes are now available and sit on my shelf to enjoy at any time, but they’re still special to me, watching them and recalling my early memories of the show. Let me indulge;

 

Tom Baker was all a bit scary for me, my earliest memory was his last adventure, Logopolis. I don’t know if I was terrified of the Master’s tissue compression ray that shrank people to tiny toys, or the fact that the victims were randomly attacked on the hard shoulder of a normal motorway trying to fix a flat tyre.

Then at the end Peter Davison appeared. He started off not really knowing anything, which was good because I didn’t either, and it felt a lot less scary, but sometimes it was downright was weird and disturbing. The creepy well dressed man and woman in Four to Doomsday, Tegan being possessed by a big snake, and the harlequin in Black Orchid. For a young lad living in Sunderland, ‘cricket whites’ were as alien to me as anything else the fifth doctor might have worn until Black Orchid explained them.

 

I remember the death of Adric, the doctor falling against the cyberleader scraping Adric’s gold badge against his air filter, and the silent closing credits. The raston warrior in the five doctors killing a whole troop of cybermen. Turlough being forced to kill the doctor, with the black guardian shouting orders inside his head. It was desperately exciting. It felt desperate. At the age of 8 there’s was nothing I’d seen like it. Star Wars didn’t do it for me, but Doctor Who did. Every Tuesday and Thursday it was entirely possible the doctor might not have the answer, he could not save the day and people would die in horrible ways. He wasn’t an alpha male, he wasn’t cocky and he wasn’t afraid to show vulnerability.

My sharpest memories are from February 1984 and Resurrection of the Daleks. Shown in two double length episodes instead of the usual four, it felt special and epic and edgy. Sinister policemen gunning folk down in the street, nasty green gas that made faces melt and the confrontation between the doctor and davros, it was dark.

Of all the Doctor Who I’ve seen since, it’s this run of stories that resonates for me most. With increasing pace and insurmountable odds the fifth doctor never looked for trouble, he just had a run of incredibly bad luck. From Arc of Infinity (the first VHS bought in the 90’s) all the way to Caves of Androzani (one of the first DVD releases by the BBC to test the popularity of the format) adventures took place in the darkest bleakest corners of the universe, and at the centre of it all was the fifth doctor. The smartest man in the room, listening, observing and politely advising people in uniforms not to to do really stupid things, displaying all those doctory values that I’ve come to love, slow to anger but passionately bold about what was right and wrong, he was a big beige stripy beacon of hope, and he was my doctor.

Queue up Peter Howell’s screaming synth arrangement of theme tune. I can still feel it go right through me.

 

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