By Jerome Studdy
It's a disaster waiting to happen; four actors, one pianist, no script, no score, nothing planned, and an idea from the audience. Yet somehow, the Impromptunes troupe managed to improvise a musical that not only hung together successfully, but was wildly entertaining. Impromptunes' opening night of their run at Bondi Feast saw a performance of the, "never before seen, never seen again" musical 'Casanova Penguin'. The show was sultry and silly, with all the hallmarks of an excellent musical; flippers, flappers, bathroom tiles, the Vatican, a harpoon gun, and penguin love. What more is there to a compelling narrative, really?
The troupe of four wickedly sharp improvisers (Emmet Nichols, Morgan Phillips, Alexia Brinsley, and Isabella Valette) all bound onstage with vigour, and an unprecedented sense of calm. Where others would normally be panicked, these cool customers strut in without a shopping list, and walk out with exactly the right ingredients for their soufflé. Of course, the show would hardly even begin to exist without the phenomenal fingers and even more incredible mind of David Peake on piano. Peake not only has the impressive ability to improvise enjoyable soloistic material for the overture and interludes, but is equally adept at establishing vamps and grooves for the cast to build upon, and catching their shifting harmonic intentions.
The group clearly have an excellent sense of communication and obviously rehearse well together. It’s strange to say that an improvised musical was rehearsed, but there is no doubting that these talented performers spend a great deal of time honing their skills. Their lyrics were always signposted and structured in the dialogue, their rhymes were clean and straightforward, and they were not afraid to break character and throw each other into the deep-end for comedic effect. Flashbacks are an excellent technique, and a wonderful way to make your friends act out a penguin sex scene.
Of course, there were plenty of fumbles, pauses, corpses, and intersecting lines or ideas, but this all comes with the territory. It was striking though, that the dance, an element that a lot of people would regard as the easiest element to improvise, was not particularly impressive. While it’s understandable that the dancing is not the priority for the cast while improvising, it shouldn’t be neglected. The troupe may not be dancers by trade, but a couple of basics classes, and a simple collection of default moves and configurations would allow another impressive element to be added to the show.
Not at all unnoticed was the masterful technical work of the sound and lighting team. Not only were they able to keep apace with the sound requirements and mic cues of the improvised show, but they were also able to shift lighting states, spots, and specials to suit the mood and context of the show. Congratulations.
This show is such a wonderful demonstration of talent and quick-wittedness. You have the chance to see them perform live for their remaining time at Bondi Feast. Of course, if you miss that, you can always tune into their Impromptunes Podcast. Keep your eye out for a live performance though, because it is something remarkable to behold. Congratulations to all involved. I’m off to find my own Casanova Penguin.
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.