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Theatre review: Lifegame 
16th-Jul-2010 10:57 pm
tragicomedavatar
Well I got to the end of my 9-day theatre marathon. Not that there was any doubt, it's not like I was doing something horrible for nine consecutive days, but you do have to watch out that something you enjoy doesn't end up being a chore, and nine days is probably a good top limit for that (Ian from There Ought To Be Clowns did nearly twice that earlier this year, and by the end of it didn't want to see the inside of another theatre for love nor money. He's recovered now though.) I'm now happy to have a couple of rest days, although by Monday I'll probably be going into withdrawal. And at least it's been a fairly varied week - West End stuff, Shakespeare done both very well and not so much, a little bit of politics and some miners in drag, and to end another completely different direction, in what is essentially an improv show.

Lifegame sees a group of performers from theatre company Improbable wait on stage for a surprise guest to be announced - neither they nor the audience knows who it is. In the performance Andy and I saw, it was Sir William Atkinson, a headmaster who's turned around a number of failing inner-city schools. He is interviewed to one side, and when a possible cue for a sketch comes up, the other performers leap in and attempt to dramatise it. There's a few variations built in to keep the momentum up (in one scene the actors couldn't make up lines, only repeat what Atkinson whispered to them; elsewhere they acted out a family scene with him ringing a bell or honking a horn to indicate whether they were "hot or cold" in relation to how accurate the depiction was.) Clearly this show is going to vary from night to night depending on who the guest is, and unfortunately Atkinson took a long time to relax, and to start with seemed to be under the impression he was in a version of What's My Line, being deliberately evasive about what he'd done to earn his knighthood. It also meant the actors seemed unsure of how to deal with him - not having interviewed a KBE before, they asked what they should call him to his face, and he answered "Sir William;" it took them until the second half to clear up that he'd been joking.

We wondered if they'd use the interval to bond a bit with Sir William backstage, and he did seem a bit more at ease afterwards. While it never became a great show it did improve, and there were a couple of nice insights. I liked a scene where he was asked to play the teacher who'd inspired him, opposite Guy Dartnell playing his younger self, and that was an interesting moment as he clearly went from an impression of his own teacher, to showing the patient and canny teacher he in turn became. Elsewhere, there was a nice moment as they revisited his early teaching years - faced with an inspirational black teacher it was probably inevitable the actors, playing his students, would tease him about To Sir With Love; with a bit of obvious embarrassment Atkinson confessed he'd loved the film, and seen himself in Poitier. I think maybe this is why the show tonight felt like a missed opportunity - as Andy pointed out, they spent far too long (the entire first half and a bit of the second) dealing with his childhood years and teenage crush, which were all very well but nothing out of the ordinary, and not enough with the more recent years, the ones that after all earnt him his knighthood and in turn would have made him a candidate to be interviewed in the first place. As for the rest, it being improv it was bound to be hit-and-miss. Niall Ashdown, who I'm sure did a few Whose Line Is It Anyways years ago, was the most consistently funny.

In the spirit of the show, the Lyric have filled the cafe area with blackboards, postcards, exercise books etc, each area asking a question that visitors are invited to answer. It's a shame we only got to the theatre just before the show started, so only really had the interval to peruse what people had written, because there were some very witty comments made there - surely a potential spur to another improvisational show. In the end Lifegame wasn't a terrible show, we both found stuff to enjoy, but it lacked a little bit of spark.

Lifegame by Improbable is booking until the 17th of July at the Lyric Hammersmith.
Comments 
(Deleted comment)
18th-Jul-2010 01:14 pm (UTC)
It did feel quite retro though, apparently they've been doing it since the 1990s and it does feel very Whose Line Is It Anyway?
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