I have to be honest, on seeing the opening of Improbable's 'Spirit', where performers Guy Dartnell, Phelim McDermott, Lee Simpson appear through holes in a wooden raked platform I expected a completely rehearsed and admittedly pretentious piece of dialogue. However, thankfully, this was not the case. By breaking the moment with a completely unrehearsed, lighthearted and improvised conversation it gave the piece a refreshing feel that set the standard for the rest of the piece to be unpredictable and theatrically exciting. Progressing from this, the performers used the flexible structure of the piece to its advantage by being able to accept accidents and mistakes that happened during the performance. For example, when a sack, acting as a pillow, fell off the top of the racked platform Guy Dartnell accepted this moment, and instead of ignoring it and carrying on as you would expect in perhaps a naturalistic play, he went to pick it up and this provided a very comical moment in the piece. I also enjoyed the way they mixed a playful and childlike attitude to using puppets and props to present their concept of war and conflict. This raised many poignant images in the performance, and these images were special as they were fresh and not contrived through rehearsal, so the piece was much more open for the audience to take what they personally found in the production.
Posted by Helen Hudson
I just got back from watching spirit. Have very mixed views of the video. Loved the set and what they did with it. I especially enjoyed how tight their movements were in relation to it and some of the ideas they had around it were really creative. Only problem i did have with it was i thought some of the context and talking was verging on being pretentious. I find sometimes that when they talk it feels like they are talking down to the audience a lot, almost patronising in a way, i mainly feel this more from Phelim rather than the others. This could just be a personal thing though, i don't in any way think his work is bad i just maybe do not click on the same wave length as him. I did find quite funny though the way they used him as a puppet because when we did the devised peaces in our groups that was the original idea we came up with, people as puppets. cool that's about all i have to say really.
Posted by Fiona Allison
My initial thoughts of the play was that it had quite a slow start, but potential to have an interesting concept. I was particularly impressed by the wooden set and the imaginative ways in which they used this, however, i feel there were more possibilities that could have been explored with the trap doors. I was particularly impressed with the 'dream' scene and how they managed to use the set, sound and lighting quite harmoniously in order to create the effect of a dream. Something i hadn't seen from improbable before was an affective use of sound scaping; this was used very well in the aeroplane kit scene and the buildings coming out of the wooden set created an affective image from the audiences viewing angle. I didn't however like the intertwining of the 'war' between improbable and the actual 'war'. I feel these two ideas did not complement each other and that they should have gone with one concept or the other as both had more potential than what was performed. I found the human puppetry very effective and would like to do something similar in my own devised piece, this linked nicely into the one man show scene where one actor played both characters, however it seemed unclear as to why this had to happen. It was also refreshing that the actors acknowledged the audience and included reactions from the audience in their performance such as a phone going off and someone sneezing. This did add another dynamic to the performance, however the overall product certainly maintained the classical 'unpolished' attitude that improbable are known for. However, this time it did not have the same positive effect as it has done in previous productions.
Posted by Emma Bilton
This week I’d like to add a few comments about the video ‘Spirit’. The first thing that struck me about the performance was the acting space. I spent a long time trying to work out how the stage worked and I am still slightly unsure about how it worked. It seemed a very exposing space to work in. When the actors weren’t off stage or sliding through the grid holes they were directly in front of their audience. This made the interaction between the actors and the audience seem more pronounced than it has been in other Improbable shows. An example being when one of the performers says ‘bless you’ in response to an audience member sneezing. I was able to see links between the ways in which the actors allowed themselves to be exposed in a comic way to the workshop I participated in with Lee Simpson. The actors let themselves be spontaneous and even discuss it at the end, whereupon you find out that one of them dislikes the fact that he is usually spontaneous.
I would like to mention the use of the human puppet during the performance. One of the actors becomes limp for an extensive period of time. One of the other performers is able to use his limb frame like a puppet. I found this quite alarming to watch and think that it could be a useful tool to consider using in our final pieces on fear. During the performance I found myself enjoying certain moments. There were lots of details like the mobile phone sound (being described as magic), the way in which the pillows slid to their owners and when the actors had conversations that were unrelated to the actual story they were telling. For instance the discussion about the sneeze. I think the reason these moments worked so well for me was that they seemed so unexpected and surprised me.
I have heard so many war stories but none with instances of magic or a break where the storytellers argue about how good they are at telling the story.
Posted by Sylvie Barlow
On watching a production of Improbable “Spirit,” I feel it was an interesting account and exploration into the theme of war and conflict. The production included many typical elements of the company’s work, the most noticeable being the actors’ communication with the audience. This was unique from the very beginning of the piece as due to its traditional element of in completion, outside aspects were permitted to be adapted into the performance to increase the humour. For example, there was a golden moment where someone’s mobile went off and Lee Simpson said to his fellow actor, “Did you hear that? There was a funny sort of ‘bllbllb’ sound when you entered.” A prime example of the company’s technique of bouncing of, not only each other, but all elements of the theatre for inspiration in forming effective improvisation. This idea, in fact, cleverly covered the production’s first idea on the topic of conflict, that being an actor’s conflict with the audience.
As Improbable’s principles revolve around the idea of improvisation, their productions are very vulnerable to different obstacles and possible conflicts that come with a live audience. However, this particular incident with the mobile phone is a prime example of the company’s attitude that nothing is a mistake, it is merely incorporated into the show. Another example of conflict the performance covered was perhaps the most obvious choice, that being the case of war. The actors depicted a story of three bakers, who were brothers, and the effects it had when the youngest went off to war and was killed. The story then developed into a generalisation of war with the use of puppet soldiers fighting each other and aeroplanes bombing cities with the use of chilling deathly sounds of dramatic music, and loud humming which almost portrayed the planes as a swarm of bees. Interestingly however, once the young baker form the actors’ story had died, they developed this into another form of conflict: a physical one whereby the other actors manipulated Phelim McDermott’s “dead” body, reflecting on the strains and physical limits of theatre. This was, although very funny for the audience to see, also at times quite disturbing as it was very strange to see the technique the company usually apply to newspaper and inanimate objects, on a human. The final form of conflict though, which again really emphasised some of Improbable’s traditional methods, was brought about when McDermott came out of character and turned to Lee Simpson saying, “You’re rubbish. You know I don’t think I’ve seen you act once in the past seven years.” This triggered a full scale argument between the actors, which proved hilarious for the audience to watch and at the same time sticking to the ongoing theme. What also seemed quite striking was the way this argument seemed so realistic when in actual fact, like most other Improbable productions, it was an example of highly commendable improvisation.
Posted by Laurence Brasted