The improv group Racing Minds want to tell you a story. They just don’t know what that story is yet. Instead, a number of audience members, chosen forcibly and at random, will give them themes, a location and title with which to sow an hour-long narrative, in which disparate threads stitch together in ramshackle serendipity. The play follows an ingenious three-point structure: protagonists and antagonists emerge, travel towards conflict and end in confrontation.
It’s simple, but it works and requires many an ingenious invention to get from A to B to C, along with all the details and complexities that keep the performers poised on their toes like a secret ballet dancer. I do not use this simile incidentally – ‘the secret ballet dancer’ was one of the audience-generated motifs that guided the story. It created an unlikely reveal in the play’s closing sequence, saving the horse race in which the play’s rivals – a malignant archaeologist attempting to revive the power of Genghis Khan and witless Mongolian horse breeder named Horatio – find themselves locked.
Racing Minds’s improv style comes from a productive tension between co-operation and competition. They are always calling each other out on mistakes and inconsistencies, but within the limits of their character and scene. ‘How do you know about life support when you’ve been in a tomb for hundreds of years?’ the archaeologist asks Genghis Khan. The competition can, at times, be disruptive and there is often a twitching sense that each performer doesn’t quite trust the man next to him to pull the same way. Chris Turner, the most adept improvised-singer in the group, wants more space to show off with the knees-up Genghis Khan murder song that re-occurs each time the villain must kill an innocent bystander. Elsewhere, another actor genuinely has to shout “I’m trying to do a dramatic explanation!” to stem the interruptions of his fellows.
However, these are moments of discord in an otherwise inventive and versatile show. Daniel Roberts, playing Khan, is the most linguistically dexterous of the team, describing for example ‘the milling thousands shouting his name’ as his horse gallops to victory. The star of the show is Dylan Townley’s music, which lifts the show’s theatrical sophistication exponentially.
Aaaand Now For Something Completely Improvised feels a little rough round the edges, but this show by Racing Minds is as pacy as it is clever, as the four performers try and speed ahead of one another at every turn.