So, by rights, last night I should have finally returned to be part of a live theatre audience to watch Simon Russell Beale in The Bridge Theatre’s critically praised version of A Christmas Carol. How annoying, then, that Covid had other ideas. However, there’s still plenty to watch online so, stowing away my disappointment, it was back to the computer screen. The very last thing I saw live back on March 11th was Mischief Theatre’s Magic Goes Wrong so, given that SRB was out of the question, it seemed appropriate to return to the comedy team to perk up the spirits and access their live online show Mischief Movie Night In. The team had been slated to carry out performances of this in a theatre venue until everything closed down again so they have now taken the concept online in this run up to the new year. It’s an improv show in which they spontaneously develop and perform a “film” taken from audience suggestions and use minimal staging to produce the finished article.
Clearly that means that what follows is an account of one performance which certainly will not form the basis of any subsequent shows. In this instance they were tasked with coming up with a vampire romance movie entitled “I Found It In The Bushes” which started out in a palace and which developed into a plot involving teenage lovers (one a vampire and one a vampire hunter) both at odds with their fathers. For good measure there was a nod to Disney with an American bat companion called Batley and the obligatory hunchbacked servant Igor. The whole thing was chaired by the (in)appropriately named Oscar (Jonathan Sayer) who kept breaking in to comment, rerun scenes and introduce us to special moments from the Director’s Cut version. He also acted as the bridge between the performers and the online audience taking suggestions from the latter to hurl at the former.
I wish there had been a sharper opening as it seemed to be ages before anything happened while various suggestions were taken and chewed over. And personally, I didn’t find the ideas particularly inspiring. One of the truths of improv theatre is that it can only be as good as the suggestions that the audience come up with. However, the team gamely took up the challenge and seemed well versed enough in the tropes of horror films to produce some memorable moments and made good use of some special effects and green screen technology to liven up proceedings. There were even a couple of songs to keep us entertained. Harking back to Mischief’s more usual “day job” some of the best bits were where things started to break down as when the senior vampire hunter seemed unable to remember the various characters’ names (even his own); I’m still uncertain as to whether that was deliberate or not. Either way it recalled the glories of the Cornley Polytechnic’s dire attempts to mount productions in the various Show That Goes Wrong iterations.
Mischief are, of course, an experienced team of players which started out with this sort of show before moving into the more specialist market in which they have repeatedly excelled. Their great forte now is actually in highly crafted shows where pandemonium apparently reigns but which, in truth, are tightly scripted, constructed and choreographed so this type of show is completely at odds with their current working methods. That alone gives it a certain freshness but I’m not sure that is quite enough. I’ve seen a couple of improv shows over the various lockdowns and I think they are hard to get right down the lens of a camera at least for anything over half an hour. The great plus when Whose Line Is It Anyway? was on TV was that the games played only lasted for a few minutes each before moving onto something fresh; sustaining one idea for over an hour is a much bigger ask. Good improvisers have a feel for what is going down well with an audience and will adjust accordingly but when viewers are remote and cannot react spontaneously this tends to lower momentum and lessen impact. Perhaps developing a couple of suggestions over half an hour each would provide a slicker and more engaging experience. Even so the Mischief Team is to be applauded for not just sitting back and riding out the storm.
Mischief Movie Night In is available as a livestream until New Year’s Eve – click here
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