Improv is a key part of the history of British theatre, not least because until 40 years ago it sort of wasn’t legal: the licensing act of 1737 determined that all plays were subject to review and censorship by the Lord Chamberlain before they could be performed publicly. Since 1968, however, anything goes, which is particularly good news for SIN – Student Improv Nottingham.
They meet weekly in Portland for exciting workshop sessions, which mainly consist of what could loosely be called games, designed to get the creative juices flowing: Three Line Scenes, Blind Date with a Twist, and the controversial ‘Fuck with the Baby’*. I took the plunge and improv-ed with the best of them. Let me tell you, it’s not easy. The trick is to let go of the idea that you will suddenly rattle off a complete and entire script to your first sitcom as soon as you open your mouth – you won’t. They seemed to laugh, though, and so did I. This is comedy at its purest – 10-20 people gather in a room and try and make each other laugh. Off the tops of their heads. For 2 hours. Some people are better than others, but that’s ok, there’s no elitism – these guys are welcoming with a capital W. Perhaps the only problem is that it’s hard to switch off from trying to be funny with every utterance – the post-society Mooch trip ‘banter’ was slightly competitive, but in a nice way.
Sooner or later, SIN move out of the relatively cosy and safe environment of the bowels of Portland, and unleash their finely honed comedy skills on the student public at large. Their latest effort was ‘The Cranberry Chamber’, an improvised whodunnit where the audience choose…err…who dun…it, which had “frankly ridiculous success”, according to Society President RJ. He fondly reminisces how the male lead used the improvised half of the play as a ruse to kiss all female cast members, and not-so-fondly reminisces how he suggested it would be funnier if he entered from under a sink rather than stage-left, and consequently spent half of every performance onstage curled up in a metal box. This year’s production is expected to be bigger, better, and 100% improvised – RJ is just hoping the audience will be kinder to him this time round: “Every single night of performance, I was chosen as the murderer. I don’t know whether that means I have the look of a natural-born serial killer, or that Nottingham audiences are just tremendously anti-Scottish. I hope it’s a bit of both!”
Some of the foremost comedians of the age – Fry and Laurie, Mitchell and Webb, and a smattering of Pythons, all began life in student theatre. SIN and their ilk are the comedians of tomorrow. In the current, post-Brand/Ross climate, when there’s a chance people are afraid to take risks, and something can become a “-gate” with only five minutes and a Daily Mail writer with a soul full of hate, it’s refreshing to think that somewhere out there in University Park, people are gathering and being smutty, filthy and funny, and making each other laugh. Comedy is in good hands.
*no babies were harmed in the writing of this article.