I first fell in love with the improvised puppetry show back in 2010, when I saw it performed in Bristol as part of an Improvisation Festival called Bristol Jam. I loved it so much I altered my travel plans the next day so I could catch a second performance before I set off back up north to Manchester.
Describing improvisation is a problem for me, I can never write or speak the words which do justice to the energy found in an improvised performance. Certainly you can go to any show and marvel at the skills of the greatest actors and singers in the country, but watching a scene unfold for the very first time is an entirely different experience to seeing one which is rehearsed. Impro takes risks, any line delivered or action taken could make or break a scene. As with all live performance there is no editing, but with unscripted performance you don’t even have that second check during writing and rehearsals to reassure you. It’s all instinct, and the beautifully inventive creations that Improbable Theatre produce time and again are a showcase of their finely-tuned instincts and creative talents.
Scenes can start with a word, an object, a solitary note on a keyboard. Scenes might be entirely silent or could be sung-through. They can be set in mundane surroundings, or on top of a mountain in the Himalayas – with the help of the cast, the scenery grows around the improvised drama. Minutes can be spent not being entirely sure what is happening onstage… then something clicks and everything makes sense. It doesn’t matter the setting or the delivery, there is always heart. Whether it’s a newspaper animal, tentatively coming to life and exploring its surroundings, or whether it’s a dancing puppet made of a bikini top, this show has a real openness and honesty to it, and it’s incredibly easy to suspend disbelief and go with the flow when you are in such capable hands.
Animo is something which has to be seen to truly understand. The two nights I visited were a collaborative effort with Improbable Theatre and Blind Summit Theatre with additional guests. Improbable’s Lee Simpson hosted both evenings, introducing the concept of the show and the team involved. Sadly his fellow co-director Phelim McDermott was not available but the very talented Guy Dartnell appeared in his place – I had been fortunate to see Guy perform Animo and Lifegame with Improbable in Bristol, and also in Angela Clerkin’s The Bear when it came to Manchester in 2013.
Joining Lee and Guy was Artistic Director of Blind Summit, Mark Down – whose extensive experience in puppetry shone throughout both shows. Alex Murdoch and Sean Garratt were new faces to me, but both were enjoyable to watch. All were ably assisted by musical maestro Steve Edis, who I have had the pleasure of seeing perform countless times. It’s a given that I will see further works by Improbable, as I have been enjoying their work for many years, and now I have Blind Summit to add to that list ready for 2016.