Saturday, May 25

Hardy and Webb: Mystery at the Museum – Unity Theatre

There were a couple of mysteries surrounding this production for children. Part of the Liverpool Improvisation Festival, hosted at the excellent Unity Theatre, the first poser was: where was Becky Webb? The second: where were the children?

No matter, the audience of adults thoroughly enjoyed this detective romp played with enthusiastic elasticity by Jen Hardy and Mike Burton, in place of Becky Webb.

Improv for a beginner audience, the interaction was light but nonetheless introductory to the genre. An audience stooge was asked to play the role of the Chief who informed the detective duo that they were due a day off, whether they wanted it or not, and that they were to visit a museum. Mavis (possibly her real name) came up with the concept of a postal museum; my mate Jane came up with a Postman Pat exhibition.

Of course, there is no downtime for the detectives, and they arrive to discover that a precious original Pat manuscript has disappeared…

With no props other than some sunglasses, a couple of chairs and an imaginary broom, the players assume the roles, in quick succession, of an Irish curator, a Brummie cleaner, an Essex influencer and a fat toff. Shape-shifting between caricatures with slickness and speed, the results were hilarious, despite the odd slippage of accent, and there was some genuine corpsing, which only served to heighten the comedy.

We were asked to solve the mystery of who the thief was. I guess we could have fingered any of the quartet of characters for the crime and the cast of two would have incorporated it into the storyline. We plumped for the plumpy, but I wonder if a different audience would come to a different conclusion.

What the children (there were, I think, two in the auditorium) made of it, I’m not sure. The little lad with his grandma next to me was probably about 7 and seemed a bit baffled by his participation in the play. Given a whiteboard and marker and asked to write down the clues, his role then petered out and didn’t amount to much.

But I would imagine that this show would hit the mark for the over 10s. “Kids’ show, Webb,” was Hardy’s recurrent warning, tantalising us with the prospect that something rude was about to be said, which would surely tickle most tweenagers and certainly made the seniors laugh. Stacey, the vapid tiktokker, with her catchphrase, “like, comment, subscribe” would certainly have found purchase amongst a younger audience and was probably the most successful of the comedy stereotypes presented.

The production is, of course, carefully scripted. But it takes some skill for two people on a bare stage to give the illusion of the kind of free-flowing anarchy that makes the audience feel complicit in the creative process and alive with possibility.

Perfect for pre-teens and their handlers, at 50 minutes long it doesn’t overstay its welcome either.

Reviewer: Miranda Green

Reviewed: 19th April 2024

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.