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Improv Noir
The Canal Café
30th July 2014

★★★★☆

Publicity image for Improv Noir

Photography provided by Sugar Smoke Productions

If you're going to make things up as you go along, then you'd better have a strong team who have your back. Luckily for Improv Noir, they have exactly that. The all-female team works almost seamlessly and the trust between these unpredictable ladies is impressive to say the least. Although this basic idea is not new, it is rarely done for the very reason that it is so easy to get wrong.

This review is based on the never-before-seen and never-to-be-seen-again play created from the imaginations of the cast and two simple cues from the audience: a job title and a location (we had "The President from the Funeral Parlour") selected by audience vote. From these raw ingredients, Improv Noir create a dark play in the style, probably unsurprisingly, of cinema noir, packing it full of plot twists and unexpected humour.

The show opens on a typist, Roger (Annina Kaski), making his last confession, that he has killed for the love - or lust - of a beautiful woman. We're quickly transported via good old flashback to two days earlier, with Roger unhappy with his work as a journalist, his boss (Sayde Scarlett) aggressive and petty, and the news in this town boring. The speed at which the scene is set is impressive, helped along by elegant staging of the "inactive" characters around the edge of the stage.

The story of Roger continues and he soon encounters the beautiful woman who is to be his demise (Cecillie Aclon) and her sister (Holly Georgia). The plot thickens as glamour and intrigue draw Roger down a steady and steamy path to insanity. The level of intensity that the cast managed to maintain was impressive, leaving no point for the audience to relax or try to predict what was coming - presumably literally no one knew.

As Roger's world takes more twists and turns (all downward), we see him grappling with his emotions: lust, pride, shame, fear, greed and ultimately guilt. Kaski's portrayal of the tormented anti-hero stuck well to noir tropes, adding an energy not usually seen in the genre, whilst the supporting cast contained enough caricature to keep the mood light amid the otherwise dark plot.

Amongst many these dangerous and seedy characters, we meet the exciting "President", or body-disposal expert (Hayley-Marie Axe). Axe's stage presence was the most honed, which added something to the oh-too-cool characters she portrayed, and slipped her personae on and off effortlessly.

The conclusion will probably remain fairly similar from one night to the next, they need a destination to reach, after all. I won't spell it out, but if you're familiar with the genre, you can probably guess what happens. Despite this, there were several sudden twists and turns along the way, which no doubt were completely improvised, maintaining a high level of shock and awe at all times.

The humour was extremely self-aware, lending a great deal of charm to the performance, and the cast certainly seemed to be enjoying themselves too. Considering that all the jokes were made up on the spot, a surprising number landed well, however the looseness of the format has one downfall - that all too often people tried to speak over one another. And this lack of plan did mean that the set and lighting were all fixed, yet it did not prevent the play from having a carefully considered generic noir mood.

It's clear these girls are up there to have a good time and if the audience get swept along, more's the better. But if you think no official script, no lighting plan, sound, music or costume makes a performance less ambitious, then think again - this is a brave risk and paid off well for Improv Noir.

Improv Noir opened on 29th July and runs until 31st July at the Canal Café, then from 4th to 7th August 2014 at the Etcetera Theatre, as part of the Camden Fringe.

Nearest tube station: Warwick Avenue (Bakerloo)



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