Rhinoceros Big Friday at North London Tavern and Extreme Championship Improv at Etcetera Theatre
PUBLISHED: 17:15 14 March 2019 | UPDATED: 17:15 14 March 2019
Improv comedy seems to be having a moment and performer Philippa Peacock explains whey she and audiences are addicted to this raw seat of your pants entertainment
Improv comedy is nothing new. After all, The Comedy Store players have been trading on the quick wits of Paul Merton, Josie Lawrence and Lee Simpson since 1985.
But with the recent success of the likes of Showstopper! The Musical - currently ejoying a run at The Other Palace and Lyric Theatre - this seat-of-your-pants entertainment seems to be having a moment.
West Hampstead comic Philippa Peacock got hooked on the buzz of improv after forming Rhinoceros 18 months ago.
The group has just moved its Big Friday event from the London Improv Theatre above the North Star on Finchley Road, to the North London Tavern on Kilburn High Road.
Instead of a games-based format like Who’s Line Is It Anyway? the team concoct a series of sketches from an audience suggestion, then string them together into a 25 minute sit-com.
“It’s long form improv with everything completely made up on the spot, like writing a half hour episode of Friends or The Office,” says Peacock who has previously, penned a Radio 4 comedy series and her own one woman show.
“It’s an unusual night, it’s absolutely not stand-up. A one word suggestion from the audience inspires you to various situations, people come in and out, you try to link all the storylines, then bring it together to a very satisfying end.”
Memory is key she says: “It really exercises all the human senses and challenges the brain. You have to listen to everything and remember what’s happened. It’s a great discipline.
“The hardest thing can be listening to yourself; sometimes someone will respond and you think ‘what are they doing?’ then remember it’s what you said.
“If it goes really well, people say ‘I thought it was supposed to be made up’. Most of the time, you feel you are struggling, but the audience thinks it’s great.”
Peacock thinks that in an age where scripted theatre can feel safe or even stale, audiences love the fear factor of improv.
“It’s a different feeling to stand up, there’s an air of danger, they are leaning in to listen.
“When it goes wrong, you treat it as a gift and make fun of it, as long as you are confident and play it hard, it can be even funnier, or it can send you down a different route that often works out great. There’s no wrong.”
The team rehearse only the principle of the format, which Peacock compares to “learning to drive but every journey is different”.
If a scene really tanks, they have a code to end it, sweep the stage and start afresh. And they hold post-show post mortems on how they could do better.
“Sometimes there are stony silences, you think ‘aagh help’ but you can’t expect laughs every moment. The more you do the harder you are on yourself. If it goes wrong you want to do it again to get a better result.”
But she adds: “It’s fun. You get sucked in, it’s like a cult or a gambling addiction, if you like it, you become an improv lunatic.”
Rhinoceros Big Friday on the last Friday of every month, layers two improv sessions with two 20 minute sets of character comedy. The next on March 29 features comic and Showstopper! regular Pippa Evans as well as Peacock.
“My characters are always pitiful, like Roberta who is desperate and awful and goes up to people in the audience to ask them to go on holiday with her - she has her bikini on top of her clothes ready to go.
“I also have a baby who talks like a suburban housewife, and a jazz singer who falls asleep mid song - I don’t like making a fool out of audience members, I prefer them laughing at how sad I am.”
Rhinoceros Big Friday is on March 29 eventbrite.com/e/rhinoceros-big-friday-tickets-56039649099.
But before that Extreme Improv are holding a Comic Relief fundraiser at Etcetera Theatre above the Oxford Arms in Camden Town on March 15.
Extreme Championship Improv will see the team compete in audience-suggested feats of hilarity, vying for the first-ever Golden Nose Championship.
Regular cast members, including David Pustansky, Annie Harris, Adam Hughes, Angus Dustagheer, Ellie Gill and special guests perform a 90 minute battle for the title featuring uniquely designed games with a Comic Relief twist. There are plenty of opportunities for audience participation, including the chance to bid to affect the show, have a song made up about them, or even take part in a scene. And it’s all in a good cause.
Extreme Championship Improv is on Friday March 15 at 9pm. Tickets £10 etceteratheatre.com or ticketea.co.uk.