Playback Impro

The concept of Playback Impro is both a simple and an effective one. Simple because the material used to create its humourous improvised sketches comes directly from audience members’ stories, and effective because this method allows the performers to dodge what is perhaps the most difficult part of creating an unscripted, unplanned performance: coming up with a structure on the spot.

Perhaps Playback Impro's strongest selling point is that it allows us to indulge ourselves in our memories and stories. Through it we are allowed to share the things that make us laugh, or make us proud, and see them brought to life by a talented cast of performers.

With that issue sorted out by our keen, active audience, the four-person company A Drunken Sailor were able to concentrate on delighting us with a friendly, inclusive and, most importantly, hilarious performance. Some of the stories tackled included Oyster-card theft, goal-scoring, topless singing and a desperate search for water. This diverse range of subjects was explored through an equally diverse range of genres and styles that the performers dipped into for comic effect. A soliloquy of classic Shakespearean grandeur was performed off-the-cuff, sinister strings were strummed to create a Hammer horror-like atmosphere and they even succeeded in working in a biblical chorus.

As is the risk with most improvisational theatre, the occasional awkward moment crept into the performance. Sometimes even the most fertile mind can't come up with an entertaining way of presenting a teeth brushing scene. The show's opening, explanatory section wasn't as smooth as it could have been, with the cast seeming to give each other example stories that were extremely difficult to dramatise in a funny way. For a few brief moments, it seemed like it wasn't going to work, and that we were about to inch through 50 excruciating minutes before, thankfully, the performers began to gel. This is an occupational hazard. To avoid it, the company would have to prepare material beforehand, which would betray the concept that breathes so much energy and humour into the show.

Perhaps Playback Impro's strongest selling point is that it allows us to indulge ourselves in our memories and stories. Through it we are allowed to share the things that make us laugh, or make us proud, and see them brought to life by a talented cast of performers. Their greatest strength lay not in their performative skills or even their improvisational bravery but in their skill in including us as an audience and gauging our mood. They were not scared to go for a cheap laugh when they felt we needed lifting, and that was beneficial to the mood of the room. They were not scared to openly communicate the genre or method they were about to use to the audience, which helped to bring our multinational and mixed age group to a common understanding that made the experience an entertaining and enjoyable one. In fact they had very few fears at all.

There can be no spoilers here, but it seems safe to guarantee an energetic, funny and thoroughly enjoyable performance that will let you laugh. I'm not making it up.

Reviews by Andrew Forbes

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Performances

Location

The Blurb

'A real standout from all the stand-up, this is comic improvisation theatre-style. It can be anything from a mundane event on the way to the theatre, to a traumatic childhood experience. The interaction is fun, compelling and very imaginative. And the quick-witted troupe step into your story, giving it a genre and treatment in seconds – making it very slick. 'Will keep you coming back for another unrepeatable performance' ***** (Mirror). 'It doesn’t get any better than this. Spontaneous, ingenious and thoroughly entertaining. One hour was way too short for this treat’ **** (BroadwayBaby.com).

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