Playback Impro

The Fringe is absolutely saturated with wonderful improvised comedy. Stalwarts of the festival have consistently provided brilliant nights out for years. To stand out in this competitive environment is quite a feat, but London-based troop A Drunken Sailor manage it with their Free Fringe offering - a fresh, funny and strangely cathartic show.

There was a definite impression that if anyone had something more serious to get off their chest, these compassionate performers had created a safe space to do so.

Playback Impro’s uniqueness stems from its style of improvisation. Playback theatre was developed in America during the 70s as a method of sharing the stories of people from all different walks of life. The concept is that performers listen to an audience member’s memory - good, bad, or ugly - play back their impression of that memory. There are a series of different forms (all of which have enjoyably enigmatic names such as ‘madrigal’) which the players use to regurgitate the scenes, and they pick the most appropriate option for a given memory. In the particular performance I watched, there was a heavy reliance on 'free form.’ It would have been interesting to see more of the other forms, as those sketches were by and large the best received.

The quartet are all very capable improvisers, possessing a particular skill for using their unusual bar venue to their advantage. Their twisted imaginations became apparent the second they picked up different coloured pieces of cloth to act out the more puerile stories. Ensemble member Roderich Millan’s gentle humour and deadpan delivery made the most unusual lines killer. If there is a fault in the show, it’s that the scenes often need more definitive endings – several offerings either tailed off too soon or went on a touch too long. In addition to this, A Drunken Sailor need to work out a better way to integrate musical instruments into their set. Though their presence was exciting, their use was slightly underwhelming.

The collection of memories I witnessed focussed on silly subject matter: obsessive cats, phantom peeing, feeling like your head was going to explode on an airplane. However there was a definite impression that if anyone had something more serious to get off their chest, these compassionate performers had created a safe space to do so. I will remember the show fondly.

Reviews by Joe Christie

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The Blurb

‘It doesn't get any better than this ... spontaneous, ingenious and thoroughly entertaining’ **** (, Brighton Fringe 2014). The actors play back moments and stories taken from the audience. Come and tell a moment from your life and watch the actors play it back on the spot. Or just sit back and watch others tell theirs. Playback is interactive if you want it to be, but not compulsory to join in. Playback is an international theatre form performed throughout the world. Totally spontaneous live theatre with the audience as the star.