SOOP of the instant variety

Saturday night is always a difficult one. I’m at that age where a night gracing the dance floor in Liquid accompanied by several Tequila slammers is all just a bit too energetic, but equally I’ve not yet reached sitting in front of the TV with my slippers on and a nice cup of tea. So when my friend Bex suggested a spot of improvised comedy I was both intrigued and glad to do something a little different on a Saturday night.

Soop Theatre logo

We headed to The Cellars at Eastney for ‘Instant Soop!’, a live improvised comedy show by SOOP, the resident theatre company at the Spring Arts and Heritage Centre, Havant. The company’s website declared that each show is slightly different as it’s based on suggestions from the audience, creating a kind of personalised theatre. We grabbed a drink and bagged ourselves a good spot where we would be close enough to be part of the action.

Now, I’d rather not give too much away, as I really think these shows are best when you don’t know what to expect. To be fair, though, they really are shaped by what the audience says, so you can never know exactly what’s coming! The very funny Vincent Adams, co-founder of SOOP and a fellow SSA member, was the host for the evening, acting as a conduit for the suggestions from the audience and keeping a loose hold of the reins.

On stage the four actors took part in a variety of exercises involving lightening-quick thinking and a willingness to go with the flow, wherever it may take them. This kind of theatre only works if you have the audience on board, willing to come along on the journey with the actors and really throw itself into it too. The modest-sized but enthusiastic audience at The Cellars was with the actors every step of the way, and as the evening progressed the laughter became louder and freer.

An Instant Soop! promo shot - the cast at The Cellars was slightly different

An Instant Soop! promo shot – the cast at The Cellars featured Rachel Carter and Nathan Chapman, both on the left

Antics on stage ranged from conversations using words from the reading material supplied by the audience to group therapy expressed through the medium of song, with music supplied by talented musician Matt Blackwell. For the therapy scene each audience member was given a piece of paper on which to write a suggestion for a problem, and the host chose two to be used. I was thrilled when my ‘I can’t stop licking plants’ suggestion became the subject of a song, and delighted at the skill of the actors as they thought up rhyming lyrics on the spot. Rachel Carter, musical director for the company, is a wonderfully talented singer, and her beautiful voice carried a surreal air of serenity amidst the madness.

My favourite scenario of the whole evening was probably when the group acted out various scenes from one particular audience member’s life. A bearded Ed Owen-Jones playing a teenage girl was hilarious if not strangely convincing (a testament to acting skill and the audience’s suspension of disbelief, as said actor looks just like Alfie Boe). The younger sister being told she would have to wait for puberty until she grew a beard like her big sister made me snort into my merlot.

To be honest the evening was over all too quickly, and I could happily have sat there for another hour or two watching further hilarity ensue. Actor Daniel Scott and the company’s creative director and co-founder Nathan Chapman joined Blackwell, Carter and Owen-Jones to make up the evening’s five performers. Along with Adams and his intelligent wit, they made a perfect troupe, and I look forward to seeing them in action again.

Catch Instant Soop! next at the Spring, Havant on Wednesday 16 October, or check out SOOP’s website for more information about the company, including other upcoming shows. Hilarity guaranteed!

A comedy read-through

The show was cast and the agonising task of putting together the rehearsal schedule was done, so that could mean only one thing: the dreaded read-through.

I say dreaded because, for most actors, the read-through is a necessary evil. For others it is an unnecessary tradition. For our director of the Comedy of Errors, Vin, it’s somewhere in between. A tradition that no show would feel properly started without, a chance to formally kick off the rehearsal process, and an important opportunity for the whole cast to get together. For some of us, this will be the only time we see certain members of the cast until the first full run-through, particularly if we don’t have any scenes together.

Comedy of Errors

Many actors dread the read-through because that’s just what it is: reading. Sight-reading is a far cry from actually acting, and requires many different skills altogether. I have seen actors who can deliver the most commanding performance on stage being reduced to a gibbering wreck in a read-through, tripping over their words until they end up lying in a heap of jumbled letters.

Although everyone did admirably well last night, we did have a few giggles here and there. Accidentally substituting prostrate with prostate got a good laugh.

The read-through also has another very important function. It gives everyone an overall flavour of the play, which can be difficult to get from individual rehearsals. Even if we don’t meet your character until the third act, it is important that they have a backstory, and what happens and is said in the previous two acts can inform this backstory.

It is also important that each actor’s interpretation of their character fits in to the journey of the play, rather than being a standalone element, so having the chance to hear the whole play read through in this way gives each actor that sense of how their character fits in.

I’m playing the Courtesan, who doesn’t make an appearance until the second half of the play, but is mentioned by other characters earlier on. Despite her limited stage time, she is a strong character and hopefully, in our version at least, a memorable one, so getting a feel for the world of the play in which she exists will help me bring to the stage a fuller and more rounded performance rather than something flat which exists solely in that moment on stage.

Rehearsals start this week, where we’ll be working on a big ensemble scene. With plentiful laughs in this wonderful Shakespearean farce, it promises to be a lot of fun.

The Comedy of Errors, performed by the Southsea Shakespeare Actors, runs from 13 to 16 November 2013 at the Station Theatre, Hayling Island.