‘I knew we should have booked a longer time slot,’ said one of the actors as another struggled to make it offstage while pretending to be a beached shark. It is fortunate, however, that the company resisted booking anything longer; had the show gone on for more than its one and a quarter hours, it would have damaged this otherwise highly enjoyable production.
This is improvised comedy for kids. Gathering suggestions from the crowd, each day You & Me Theatre Company put on a different improvised story – with appropriate projected backgrounds – which is later available for download complete with puzzles, jokes and illustrations. There was an atmosphere of celebration on our day, perhaps because so many friends of the cast had turned out to support the show. However, the four actors did not allow this to distract them from engaging the children in the show, bouncing about as the audience came in and quickly befriending all the kids.
Parents or ‘big kids’ were handed instructions on entering which stressed how they wanted suggestions from every child but that the parents should shout out on their behalf if their child was too shy. The four onstage were careful never to neglect anyone who has an idea, addressing all the children by name throughout the show and making sure they all feel that they have made excellent contributions. They must be commended for their ability to respond to the audience in a way which entertains children and adults. It had a lovely hectic party atmosphere about it and if sometimes the actors talk over each other while gathering suggestions, no one especially cares.
On our day we were given the sea as our theme and before the show proper we all made ‘telescopes’, aka rolled up bits of paper covered with stickers. These few moments of simple crafting appealed as much to adults as children and helps to get everyone in the mood. Furthermore, these props aren’t just abandoned but are later on used to great improvised effect within the show.
After this enthusiastic beginning, however, things waver a little. The plot is slow getting started and much of the humour initially rests on our awareness that the story is being improvised, something which may not register with younger members of the audience. Furthermore, compared with the high energy brainstorming session, the two person conversations that don’t go anywhere appear rather dull.
However, the show soon picked up, providing many amusing moments as it eventually came together into something resembling a familiar story arc. The songs are impressive for having been thought up on the spot and there are even some improvised sing-alongs. Occasionally they get the children to make suggestions throughout the show which really helps to keep them engaged. Slightly on the long side, therefore, but most decidedly worthwhile entertainment, if only because You and Me Theatre Company have decided to make the most of childrens’ capacity for feats of quite extraordinary imagination.