Improvised Therapy

Mon 20th – Sat 25th August 2018

reviews

Louis Harnett O'Meara

at 13:25 on 22nd Aug 2018

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There isn’t a clear label to apply to the three-woman show, ‘Improvised Therapy’. It’s a sort of sketch show that toys with the idea of improvised work but ultimately follows a plotted course – though this course is erratic and cyclical. It’s funny, for sure, but that’s not quite the intention of the piece. It’s also quite disturbing.

The three performers play psychiatrists – Doctors Barry, Brian and Bean. Trapped in their office, they run through a series of different absurd activities in front of the audience, intended as ‘Therapy’. They play a tiny keyboard while they provide answers to audience members’ concerns – “My nose is too big!” to the tune of e flat was a surreal exercise in comedy. “Chop it off,” Barry suggests, as his colleagues perform interpretive dance with two half-willing people dragged from the audience.

But besides this there really isn’t any improvisation at all – as the show points out itself at one point – “This isn’t even really improv is it!” It isn’t clown theatre either, though clearly they’ve been trained in that mode. Nor is it quite a sketch show. It’s in a crisis of performative identity, and it’s an expression of originality that’s rare to see. While it certainly isn’t perfect – for the first half I was particularly dubious – the show does something you don’t see in most shows, and it does it well. It’s an experiment, and unlike most student theatre experiments, it was actually enjoyable to watch. Interesting even.

But ‘Improvised Therapy’ would have fallen utterly flat if it wasn’t for the scope of acting all three performers showed. Their tone of voice and facial expressions were incredible to watch at times, as they would switch from disconcertingly red-faced and aggressive to quiet and doddery. And as these emotions develop we begin to see that all of them are slowly beginning to lose their own minds, waiting for the absent third psychiatrist – Will.

The show ends spectacularly, exploding onto all of the senses and bringing the show full-circle. But rather than leaving them laughing, the audience are left to consider what exactly they’ve just seen. It’s a difficult question to answer – I suppose everyone would tell you something a little different. If you’re interested in seeing something a little off the beaten track, maybe it would be best to go and make up your own mind.

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Beatrix Swanson Scott

at 13:30 on 22nd Aug 2018

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The brilliantly named Barry, Brian and Bean are a young theatre company comprised of Goldsmiths graduates Rachel Barry, Niamh O'Brien and Nina Levy. It’s hard to describe this show of theirs (other than to say that, spoiler alert, it isn’t improvised), which is probably one of its great strengths.

Barry, Brian and Bean are doctors. We think. At least, we know they work in an office – an office that is falling apart around them because their goldfish, Will, has gone missing. What follows is a series of funny, offbeat scenes exploring all the little problems people have and the strange things they do to try and solve them – self-deprecation, paranoia, pseudo-therapy, daddy issues and ‘Doctor, doctor’ jokes all feature. Highlights include a recurring, increasingly exaggerated sketch of office lust based around women being ‘birds’ and men being called ‘dogs’, a lively sequence in which the doctors try to solve problems the audience have written down on slips of paper through physical theatre and a toy keyboard, and the moment when a mysterious voice from above appears to critique the worth of what is going on onstage, adding a tongue-in-cheek ‘meta’ element to the proceedings.

It is rare that a show that is not improvised but feels improvised is also successful and engaging, but this one nicely pulls off its non-sequiturs (it turns out that the doctors’ office also operates a pizza delivery service) and bizarre romp. It’s refreshing and rewarding as an audience member to watch something, especially a comedy show, that does not feel the need to explain everything and trusts the viewer’s imagination to make some leaps, fill in some gaps. Though I wasn’t laughing throughout, I was consistently kept interested by trying to figure out what on earth was going on, and impressed by the energy and inventiveness of this troupe.

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