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Review: Ibsen Improvised at Flow Studios

By Abbie Gallagher

In many acting classes, the good ones anyway, there's a piece of advice you hear over and over again: "Approach your craft like children approach playtime!"

In other words, throw yourself into the moment the way children do. They don't waste time worrying about motivations or anything like that. They just play, have fun, create and explore. This appears to be advice that Upper Crass Theatre Company has taken to heart, and it makes for a terrific experience for all.

Upper Crass has assembled a team of 7 dynamic actors, and presented them with the distilled tropes of Henrik Ibsen. Actually, it's more accurate to say the audience is presented with these, on flash cards. The audience is heavily involved in the process. Indeed, without them there would be no performance. They choose the scenario and they cast the actors, who in turn improvise a three-act, 60 minute play. The actors name their own characters and there's two chalkboards on the stage to help everyone keep track of the company.

Last night, casting was as follows: George, the empty-headed dreamer (Brenton Amies), Claire, the ill parent (Alice Furze) Beatrice the controlling matriarch (Rosemary Ghazi), Arthur the lecherous lover (Lewis Scamozzi), cunning rival Dorothy (Emily Tighe), the classic jealous relative Henrietta (Katherine Poulsen) and James Hartley as the harried butler Carruthers.

Their given scenario, the family is "forced to choose against their will, which backfires". In the ensuing action, aspiring artist George arrives home to his controlling mother Beatrice and ailing grandmother Claire. His secret lover Arthur arrives at the estate brandishing the real estate deeds he's recently purchased. With the town rife with gossip over their relationship and faced with the prospect of becoming destitute, Beatrice decides it's time to take drastic, unthinkable measures.

It's a scenario and gallery of stock characters that audiences will no doubt recognise, but all cliches start somewhere and were once innovations.

Despite some patchy sound effect cues, there's little else to find fault with here. Lewis Scamozzi is an audience favourite and rightly so, with his impish charisma and instant likability regardless of the unpleasant role he was given. Alice Furze is charming to the last, delivering many of the evening's best moments. But there wasn't any chink in the armour at all. Most impressive was how the show didn't fall into the trap of relying solely on comedy. There were very effective moments of drama, particularly in the climax. The company work off each other flawlessly and quite frankly the show didn't feel improvised 99% of the time.

On questioning the team afterwards, it turns out all they rehearsed was the structure. Understandably so, considering the theatrical conception.

The cast and creatives set themselves a monumental task here, a huge gamble that paid off in the best way possible. They plan to do an entire season down the line, which is cause for celebration and something all theatergoers should endeavour to see. Without a doubt, this is a form of entertainment which should be further developed and seen the world over.

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All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.


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