BWW Reviews: IMPROVATHON 2013, Hoxton Hall, January 11 2013
This weekend at Hoxton Hall, Extempore Theatre (formerly The Sticking Place, the company also behind the annual Terror festival at the Soho Theatre) presents not just an evening, but a two-day marathon of non-stop improvisational comedy, directed and produced by Adam Meggido.
A company of twenty actors attempts the full 50-hour Improvathon, now in its sixth year, while additional guest performers pop by to join in. The actors take to the stage in various combinations, directed by a narrator who also has the power to shut sketches down with an abrupt blackout and move on to the next. This flexibility of structure - together with the virtuosic improv talent of a cast fetched from around the world - drives the epic plot of this soap-opera set in 1920s Egypt.
That they have the stamina to keep going is extraordinary. The show is divided into two-hour 'episodes', so that the audience can come and go, but for those on stage there is no let-up as they battle sleep-deprivation two nights in a row. I saw the first of these episodes, which opened with a roll-call of characters; an introduction to a glamorous hotchpotch cast of Cairo loungers that includes Salvador Dali, Ernest Hemingway, Howard Carter, Rudolf Valentino, Margaret Dumont, H. P. Lovecraft and Jamelia Earhart, along with many more. The scene is the Hotel Continentale, where drunken proprietress Mincey Gentley (Ruth Bratt) keeps a stern eye on the "disgusting unmarried Americans" but is surprisingly permissive when it comes to sleeping with camels.
The characters are fantastic and so are their costumes, together with a flat, period set that give the impression of an 'exotic' silent movie. There were so many funny scenes - and there will no doubt be so many more before the show is out - that it seems crazy to list them, especially as a huge part of the pleasure of improv is watching how actors react to a situation, pick up from where a previous sketch left off, and incorporate mistakes into running jokes. One highlight was watching Zelda Fitzgerald, in flapper's get-up, stretch herself half-way across the stage, contorting her body round a bar stool in an effort to attract the attention of a group of studiously inattentive potential male admirers including Lawrence of Arabia.
The Improvathon offers a rare chance to see a great many experienced improvisers working together as a truly brilliant ensemble. And, as it's on all day every day this weekend till Sunday night, there's no excuse for not fitting it into your weekend - whenever suits you best.