Bristol Jam Improvathon 2012

10 11 2012

Sometimes the most bonkers ideas are the best. Put 30 actors in a room for 30 hours and get them to improvise a sitcom set in a West Country village in 1962, with a storyline loosely based around the Great British Bake-Off and with only the bare minimum of direction.

The first few hours of Improvathon at the Bristol Old Vic as part of Bristol Jam were not just about soggy bottoms and good bakes.

By the end of episode two at 10pm, we had already had a choir practise, a game of boules with a decidedly dodgy French accent, an illicit rendezvous in a graveyard, a visual representation of the 12 stages of the cross, a sultry chanteuse singing about buttering her scones, chants of tupperware-tupperware, and a quite remarkable spirit reading which channelled a Red Indian.

Some of the most memorable characters over the first four hours included a flirtatious schoolgirl, a beaded traveller, adopted orphan and cake shop owner.

Here are most of the motley crew of villagers:

The Improvathon continues throughout today, and this page will be updated as it continues with the latest twists and turns from the Bristol Old Vic paintshop.

Bacon butties are being served at the bar prior to the children’s hour beginning. There are many bleary faces among the audience, and they have not been performing for the past 14 hours. How will the cast be bearing up?

We reach the end of the children’s rather-more-than-an-hour, with the only child in the audience in fact being my own 20-month-old daughter, whose recommendation that her favourite animal was an elephant resulted in a scene on the African savannah worthy of the rather more high-budget show in another theatre the other side of the centre. We also had more singalongs, a cuddly James Bond, a few spell checks, and a traditional family Sunday lunch where the main course was not a roast, but a huge wheel of stilton.

What’s the point of cooking? That’s the main question asked in the latest episode, as the bake-offs continue, with songs and dancing used to signify their show-stopper creations. We also witness an aborted hanging, there was a real life baby on stage, a robot being deprogrammed, and a chef explaining and demonstrating that in France there are nine bases. One of the characters even returned from the wings with his head shaved, transforming himself from a banished school teacher to a wise wandering sage.

The winner of the bake-off is announced. And it’s not the time-travelling Mrs Beaton. Nor is it the long-list sister of the chef. Nor is it the first black actor to play Othello on the stage, although charges of racism are strenuously denied. The winner is in fact Brendan. No, no that Brendan. After their appearance freestyling and beatboxing in the Old Vic bar, a New Yorker and Mancunian join in at a party. The Cyclops imminently attacking the village is still imminent. It’s all still to play for in the last two hours.

And so this year’s Improvathon comes to an end with a look back one year on at the events that took place over the last 30 hours, followed by Old Vic artistic director Tom Morris swinging from a rafter to tell everyone gathered that this production is “the beating heart” of Bristol Jam. The last two hours whirl by both for actors and for audience, two particular highlights being a good old-fashioned cockney knees-up performed by two of the cast’s most accomplished female members and the reading of a novel based on the madness that we have all just witnessed. Some have witnessed more of this madness than others, with two audience members present for the entire 30 hours as others dipped in and out of this mammoth production. I was willing the actors to succeed by the end, sucked into the vortex along with the in-jokes and complex storylines, some resolved, others completely forgotten, in Bristol’s most extraordinary theatrical experience of the year.



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