All Together is an online improvised comedy show by the UK-based improv troupe The Noise Next Door which was performed live as part of The Living Record Festival 2021. Using suggestions from a live audience on Zoom, the ensemble devised a 60-minute performance on the spot with quickfire scenes and oddball characters that had us laughing without a break.
The show relies on techniques and methods of improvisational theatre (or simply improv, as some better know it!) which is a form of spontaneous storytelling based on suggestions by the audience, making it an interactive and immersive experience for those watching.
Whereas typically you’d find the quartet, consisting of Matt Grant, Tom Livingstone, Sam Pacelli and Robin Hatcher, playing at comedy clubs and fringe venues across the UK, the show All Together wasadapted for an online viewing experience, much like the global improvisational theatre community who have taken to Zoom, Twitch, Facebook Live and a myriad of other digital performance platforms to entertain audiences at home.
Given that improvisers have to rely on active participation and engagement with members of an audience to build the characters, flow and narrative of an improv show, it’s widely accepted that improv shows on screens have the two immensely difficult jobs – maintaining the same audience-performer interactivity in real life despite the distance of screens and more importantly, making sure their audience don’t lose attention over badly (read: lazily) improvised scenes that head nowhere and simply switch over to the next tab. Luckily for The Noise Next Door, the show delivers spectacularly on both fronts.
Performed live for an audience on Zoom, the show had three of the quartet (barring Sam Pacelli) performing together in a physical space in line with COVID-19 regulations. It is this proximity between the performers that allowed them to concentrate their energy, rhythm and flow such that there was never a dull moment where the audience was “waiting” for something to happen. The show’s narrative arc relied on a wide variety of short-form improvisational techniques, such as restriction-led scenes played in the style of Two-Headed Monster (two performers play the same character but can only speak one word at a time) and Pillars (one performer can only say dialogues written by audience members) and even the crowd-favourite Director’s Cut (the same movie scene done in multiple styles, genres and treatments). Then there were also quickfire open scenes between two performers that were completely inspired by audience’s suggestions for locations (for eg. a yoga studio), activities (for eg. playing the harp), characters (for eg. a constipated Mr. Bean) and much more! You’d probably wonder as you’re reading this review that all of the above sounds utterly strange and incomprehensible, but that’s where the beauty of improvisational theatre lies, taking seemingly absurd suggestions and creating a connection between them. The show started with a musical score and ended with an improvised love ballad dedicated to the partner of an audience member. I was hooked from the get-go as an audience member and had trouble making notes for this review whilst simultaneously not losing my chance to provide the next suggestion in the chat box.
Needless to say, all this was possible only because of three superb improvisers flexing their improv muscles with an assured confidence, subtly reinforcing the golden improv rule of Yes, and.. by making their scene partner look good. Each of the performers took turns to switch between the roles of being a player in the scene and being the host who is tasked with the pivotal job of getting suggestions from the audience member quickly, effectively and decisively. What was most enjoyable to watch was precisely this, that suggestions were taken quickly and without passing judgement on the audience – a marked difference between improv and standup comedy. To facilitate this interaction with the audience, the ensemble made use of the Zoom chat box feature, asking audience members to type in their responses which were then incorporated into the action in real-time. Each performer was adept at establishing CROW (Character, Relationship, Object, Where), a methodology used in improv training to create scenes with clear goals, objectives and actions by doing a few simple things – giving each other names (for two strangers will never hold a conversation for long), respond affirmatively to each other’s offers (saying no or blocking the offer shatters the audience’s belief in the pretend world being built) and listening to each other intently (remember, shouting matches never make for a watchable comedy!) The physical proximity of the performers being in the same room (as opposed to being separate ‘digital’ performers on Zoom) allowed them to play off each other’s movement and energy. This was complemented by some swift object work, with the performers using their physical bodies and a combination of real and mimed props to transform their performing space into an airport, yoga studio, bar and many more locations prompted by the live audience.
To summarize, The Noise Next Door delivered a truly ‘live’ performance, one that wouldn’t exist in the same way before or after. No two shows are alike and that’s precisely the enthralling quality about improvised theatre. These lads are on top off their improv game and promise to deliver a rib-tickling, belly-hurting and jaw-aching piece of performance, even if it’s just you sitting alone in your bedroom howling with laughter at a laptop screen to the utter befuddlement of your next-door neighbour.
You can watch a recording of All Together Now! on The Living Record Festival’s website
Reviewer: Gaurav Singh Nijjer
Reviewed: 21st January 2021
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★★