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Review: Unplanned Melodies at The Factory Theatre

By Laura Heuston

For fans of improv and musical theatre, this show is an absolutely double whammy of delight. The first half consists of improvisers Kate Knott, Chloe Latham, Benjamin Hasic, Danii Johnstone and Amanda Hood, with musician Tom Cardy, taking cues from the audience to play a variety of entertaining games, including “Doing Lines” and “Sing About It.” In the second half, they present a 30 minute musical that has never been seen before and will never be again. The audience participation is crucial, and if you’re nervous about being pulled up on stage I would not recommend the front row. And even if you’re happy to participate stay on guard, they may trick you into volunteering.

Firstly, I must offer a massive congratulations to Cardy for his seamless work in setting the tone and musical foundation for all these songs through his keyboard work. Musical improvisation is no small feat, especially when you’re the only accompanist and thus the baseline for the entire show. Cardy did the best work a musician can in this situation- he blended perfectly, and stayed well out of the spotlight. This is a testament to his ability as a performer, as it means there were no obvious errors on his part (this in and of itself is quite impressive- it’s very easy to hit one wrong key and completely change the chord) and a lack of soloing allowed for the singers to take centre stage without awkward gaps or dance breaks. I understand the temptation for musicians to move into a small patch of the limelight in shows such as this, given that they often deserve more accolades than they receive, however when done clumsily it comes across as indulgent and can open the door for some poor responses on the part of the singers. Cardy resisted this, and so it is important that I take the time to acknowledge that here. I would strongly recommend that more deference to him could have easily happened when the bows came around, he really deserves one to himself, and making this small gesture is greatly lacking in many comedy shows at the moment. 

In terms of the singers, every member did a fantastic job of emulating the style of musical theatre and engaging with easily recognisable tropes. While appearing simplistic, this is really needed for an improvised musical theatre performance, as the absurdist content needs an anchor in form and style in order to be relatable. The downside of this, of course, is that someone who is not familiar with musical theatre may feel quite lost in this show, however the consistent humor may be enough to keep them grounded. Danii Johnstone and Kate Knott were particularly skilled when it came to on the spot rhymes, with both producing some fantastic wordplay. Johnstone was responsible for the best musical riff of the night, coming up with “oh hey Martin, you’re hotter than a Spartan” which became the chorus of their serenade to an audience member (who I have to alert you, did not directly volunteer but did sit in the front row, which of course made him fair game). The backing vocals presented throughout were simple but effective, although I would have loved to hear some more harmonies throughout, as even some simple ones can add wonderfully to the quality of sound and sophistication of the musical performances. I have no doubt these singers would be capable of implementing them more, they would just have to decide who would move up or down in advance.

While I enjoyed this show considerably, I do have to acknowledge that it may not be the most accessible performance at Sydney Fringe. That being said, being more accessible does not necessarily make a show good, and this one is certainly that. The performers are all highly skilled and worthy of support, so I would recommend that fans of these mediums absolutely attend, and those who are vaguely curious also give it a go. Even if you feel a bit lost regarding the form, there is always the amusement of ridiculous content to fall back on. 

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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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