Ever wondered what it would be like to take real moments from your past and have a bunch of comedy improvisers show you and an intimate audience what would have happened if you’d made some very different life choices? Well. that’s exactly what the utterly charming and longingly likeable Mae Martin experienced last night in a tiny upstairs room at the bustling and friendly De Beauvoir Arms. A friend and I venture to the venue in N1 and once we get over the realisation that we’re actually the oldest people in the building – if there was an incident we’d feel like we have to be a bit responsible – we soon settle in to the snug and personal theatre space.
I don’t think I’ve been to a comedy venue like this since the I was at a Manchester drama school in the late 90s. It’s a tantalising set up; a small blacked out room, a limited crescent of seating and a snug stage that’s somehow completely workable for the five performers. Hundreds of strands of red wool create a backdrop to the action, spanning out in random directions. Photographs are pinned at certain points along and within these pathways like significant signposts, a noticeboard of notable moments. Different celebrity guests (Tom Allen and Sarah Pascoe amongst others) are invited each night to be interviewed by the compere and quizzed about their noteworthy moments before the improvisors, armed with anecdotes, play out alternative multiverses of their Sliding Lives. Martin (Canadian-born actor, comedian, screenwriter and star of Netflix’s Feel Good), provides some already comedic moments and the actors relish every spontaneous development, tricking each other while setting up scenarios and random storylines which never fail to be anything but funny. We hear about the very moment Martin, seven years old but on the cusp of being eight, imagined a career path of feeling good enough with their hands to become a cobbler, and when they snook out of the house to watch Ace Ventura, Pet Detective with older brother Joseph, and so begun an obsession with Jim Carrey. This led to Martin putting on playground comedy shows, but what would’ve happened if Joseph had gone alone? We may never have seen Mae on our screens! All this plays out, while Martin looks on giggling at this unlived life.
You may sense my era of comedy improvisation appreciation; I would never miss Whose Line Is It Anyway as the ingenious creativity of a talented comic improviser is something to behold. When they’re good, you’re totally drawn into the action. And with no set or props the talented Free Association players are no exception. Founded in 2015, it provides an improvisation training ground and the five actors in the show are certainly skilled members.
This one-hour show is super slick, extremely funny and something you have to experience; true theatrical invention, in the moment and up close.
Improvised and directed by: The Free Association
Sliding Lives plays until 21 May, with different guests at each performance. Further information and bookings can be found here.