Tonight I have been at the MissImp Character Jam, located in the cellar of the Malt Cross in Nottingham. This was something of an unlikely night, as I’m not a huge fan of improv and there were other nights on, albeit this was easily the closest and most convenient to get to. What interested me in this night was the quality of the performers. Within that room there was probably the next generation of the Nottingham comedy scene and it’s obviously going to be fascinating to watch the development of people such as Webber, MacPherson and Mitchell. There was also something of a clerical error involved in going there. Although the night was clearly advertised as a workshop, I saw that there was a £5 cost involved and so assumed it was still some kind of show, with a ticket price, without realising that this was the subs for the group and it was definitely a workshop designed to add to the skills of the performers. There were perhaps 25 people present of all ages but mostly young.
The tutor for the night was Liam Webber, a comedian whom I’ve got high expectations of. He spent the night working without notes and giving explanations as to the rationale behind the various manoeuvrers of the first half of the session. Webber began the night by getting the group to do some stretches and exercises, which loosened everyone’s muscles and added a lot of energy into the room. This was followed by an exercise in characterisation, with Webber shouting out a random made up name and everyone had to move how they expected someone with that name would move. This was fun to watch and of the 3-4 names called out, it was enthralling watching those who could invest each person’s movement with genuine differences and those who just made a small change. Whilst everyone was doing their own thing, taken as a mass, it did look rather like a scene from the living dead, with everyone being somehow reduced to a shuffle, no matter what they were doing individually.
After this, it was time for a game of 5 line scenes where people were paired up at random and with 5 lines they had to establish who their characters were by talking and acting out a scene with each other. The aim of this was to show quick character development so that when on stage people would be in the know as to who their character was and everyone would be able to work with, rather than against type. Webber wasn’t afraid to make people go again if they hadn’t managed to put across who they thought they were playing and had some insightful comments on what people did well with. This made me wonder if he had studied drama at Uni.
Most of the night featured Open Scene, where again, people were paired at random and they would act out a scene, showing characterisation, rather than story, with a random word shouted out from the audience forming the theme for their scene. A surprising amount of these shouted out themes were ignored. There were some extremely good performances during this section. I wouldn’t say that anyone was bad, as this was just a no-pressure workshop, but some really stood out for their skill. There was one elderly chap, whose name I didn’t get, who played a Russian president and a ship’s captain, who was very quick witted and seemed to be very much ahead of the curve in not only thinking of great lines, but in also letting his opposite number get into the show. Another notable performer was a girl called Marilyn, who was able to inject mirth into all of her roles. Probably the highlight of the night was Betty Sioux Costello-Singleton and an elderly lady who transformed the theme of quoits into a short sketch involving a drunken senile Miss Quoit and her servant. This was a splendid piece of character work, with both of them adding a lot of funny into a very short five minutes. I was especially impressed by Betty being brave enough to drop her opposite number in the deep end by telling her that she usually did Swedish nursery rhymes and then by her friend jumping in with a reasonable pastiche of these. This sketch, which was made up on the spot, was pretty much stage ready.
Whilst tonight wasn’t the night I was expecting, it was still very enjoyable and I’d heartily encourage anyone (apart from me) to pop down and have a go at it. I’d certainly go again and watch.