they perform improvised musicals.” Oh dear, I thought, oh dear.
I was a bit dubious of the whole musical theatre improv thing, I like songs and, hell, I like theatre too. But I am not a fan of awkward silences and narratives that fall flat on their face before they even get to their feet. I was preparing to cringe; Music Box's primary coloured outfits and beaming smiles were already setting off my ‘Glee’ alarm bells.
The players got to work, Rachel Anderson at the wheel of a giant trawler, swaying in the midst of wind and ocean sea spray, singing loud and incredibly well. We had fish people swimming about and a song about visiting Stornoway and not being swept away. I am one for rhyming couplets and was very impressed by the way the players took over the song from each other and worked towards an epic ending, booming out the same line.
Back on the island, we were taken on a car ride with an elderly couple from Edinburgh on their way to a B&B. The players aren’t only people in this - they’re props too - this made me smirk. The smirk would soon turn into an all out belly laugh as the guy playing the husband picked up on the fact he had made his imaginary steering wheel MASSIVE, this turned into a visual joke about the couples ginormous car.
The spontaneity of the show added to its entertainment value, you wanted to know what was coming next. The answer always a surprise – an old murderous B&B owner played by Steve Roe and the creepy, heavily accented hunchback bell boy played by James Witt who skulked off in order for us to hear a little romantic ditty from the ageing couple.
Cue lyrics “stone by stone, leaf by leaf.” I should mention now that an intuitive keyboardist, Phil Lunn. Now murder was on the horizon and this led us to Sergeant McGraff. James Witt's sergeant was American and horny. Columbo and Quincy his idols and the object of his affection his assistant Barbara. Barbara had been told by her father: “You will never amount to anything.” This opened us up to another song leading to a triumphant end for Barbara, work AND relationship wise – lucky Babs!
“they perform improvised musicals.” Oh dear, I thought, oh dear.
I was so engrossed in the last scene and the song You Weren’t Expecting That which reminisced about these oddities within the musical; I didn’t even notice myself swaying along mimicking the moves of the players. I certainly wasn’t expecting to enjoy this as thoroughly as I did.
Shout the loudest in the audience and you might even get your every own musical preformed in front of you! The Scooby Doo confrontation of the little old lady & her hunch back Scottish minion was a little ropey due to it’s frenzied reveal, but this meant the cast had to be even more inventive to get the narrative back on track. It’s not often that you get to see something truly original and laugh until you think you might pee yourself. (Very easily done in The Old Red Lion Theatre Pub, there’s only one friggin' girls loo!)
Musicals in the West End are dying a death grasping at pop groups and 80s romance films to keep them afloat – ideas are waning and I think I’d rather watch the ingenuity and imagination of Music Box unfold in front of me with a few pop culture references thrown in for good measure. Inventiveness is key and the big shows seem to have lost that, I've been converted to improvisation theatre.
After the show I talked to Rachel Anderson of Music Box. She studied theatre and explained a lot of the other performances come from the same background. Anderson had been working the Stand-up circuit and decided to try some improvisation to develop her act further. Rachel commented: “Unlike the huge Stand-Up scene in London, which is probably the biggest in the world, Long Form Improv is 20 years behind here. It is huge in America, there is a fantastic group called Baby Wants Candy over there. They call improvising playing because that’s what it’s like.”
Music Box were that evening's guests of Glitch, a puppet improvisation group. Glitch have two other shows at The Old Read Lion Theatre Pub on 22nd & 23rd of Dec and will be joined by a Sci-fi improvisation group Project Two and The RH Experience respectively. Seems like there are many different improvisation groups, just like the gangs in The Warriors, I’m sure there’s a perfect one for you!
You can catch Music Box this Thursday at The Priory Arms, Stockwell, London and they will be performing with Hoopla Improv at The Miller in Borough, London.