I took a secret weapon to watch An Improbable Musical at Northampton’s Royal and Derngate: my 14-year-old, musicals-obsessed daughter. Not just for her company and expertise, but because she’d already seen it the evening before with her friends.
The promise of this improvised musical is that you don’t see the same show throughout the run. I admit it: I was trying to catch them out. More fool me. It was entirely improvised on the spot. The Improbable company are masters at their craft.
The QUEEN of improv, the silky-voiced Josie Lawrence, doyen of Whose Line is it Anyway? (which anyone alive in the 1980s will recall as must-watch comedy TV) is at the helm, with People Just Do Nothing’s Ruth Bratt stealing the show on our visit. Add in some incredible onstage musicians (I was mesmerised by Max Gittings’ giant flute (not a euphemism) and other unfamiliar instruments) and you’ve got a whole heap of talent right there, making stuff up for ‘the commune’. (That was the audience).
The set up goes something like this: (I did worry about it starting off a bit artsy-uni sketch show. Subsequently unfounded).
They ask the audience for some shouted-out ideas – a place (on our night, a lake, “with water in it”). Something about “a house on fire, but this time it wasn’t my fault”. (“But they could be ‘plants’, secreted in the audience so they know what’s coming”, I whispered to daughter. Not so, she says, seeing as one of her mates had done the random shouting the night before. “Shush mum”.)
They all scribbled it down in notebooks, including the musicians, and then they’re off, with a tower of steps and rooms, a load of props (a scary mask at the back was looking at me all night, but stayed where it was) and some hilarious and often credulously-rhymed lyrics.
Thankfully (I’m not great at musicals that sing everything), it’s not ALL sung – the actors come up with a series of sub-stories, sometimes connected, sometimes a bit random, but almost always laugh-out-loud funny. They weave a story together with songs and the occasional mickey-take of themselves, each other or the audience. It’s beautifully clever and the relationship between the cast is endearing – even with the director and lead puppeteer out through Covid. You feel part of it without the mortifying idea of having to say anything.
There’s a couple of shows left in Northampton – it’s a partnership with the ever-innovative Royal & Derngate who we are lucky to have in the town – and it’s a great night out I’d heartily recommend. There’s no interval – it’s an 80-90 minute show so have a wee beforehand because you’ll definitely be laughing!
An Improbable Musical runs until Saturday March 5 with a matinee on the last day as well as evening performance. Book asap via the online box office or call 01604 624811