Review: ‘New and DIMproved’

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From the outset, this production of New and DIMproved is energetic and light-hearted as the newly formed troupe for Durham Improvised Musical bound onto the stage of the Assembly Rooms Theatre. With the troupe immediately taking suggestions from the audience, the setting of this production becomes a Weetabix factory with the overarching title being ‘The Purge’. Whilst this might seem random, it is better than the suggestion of ‘Brazilian Cage Fighting’ that nearly dictated the overall theme of the musical. With just one split-second cue, the cast impressively transform into characters from a Weetabix factor which they maintain and develop throughout the evening.

The opening song was extremely entertaining as these characters introduced themselves, all while maintaining their posture, facial expressions, accents and quickly constructing their chosen rhyme schemes. Two of the most impressive characters were that of the Cheerio and the Crunchy Nut which were embodied by and Tom Murray. As lone rangers in a Weetabix factory, their first scene as a duo cleverly created their ‘prankster’ personas as they spring into the shape of a Weetabix within an instant. Nicholson shows great skill by composing the line ‘that is how we get our kicks, pretending to be Weetabix’ alongside the dramatic drop to the floor moment which draws a well-earned round of laughter from the audience. These tricksters provide the structural basis for the rest of the cast to improvise their own subplots and to weave them together to fulfil, perhaps with some difficulty, the theme of ‘The Purge’.

Excellent performances are also given by Fizzy Raby and Mark Woods as they both invent their characters of the hyper-masculine health inspectors. Together, they build their own riotously hilarious, back-and-forth repartee which prevents the performance from becoming awkward or stagnant which is a terrific achievement given that the troupe are clearly building this musical entirely from scratch. However, it is also evident that this group of actors have put in copious numbers of rehearsals and hours to perfect their joint imaginative capabilities as their interactions feel natural and unreserved.

Often, as is expected with improvised theatre, some of the best moments arise from mistakes. One such accident occurred when Mark Woods, fully engrossed in his role as the macho health inspector, gave a chest slap to his partner, Bob, as played by Fizzy Raby. An innocent mistake turned into an endearing moment as both actors shared a brotherly embrace with much laddish clapping of the back leaving an audience in a fit of giggles and the potential for an awkward moment positively averted. The entire troupe showed an experienced propensity for turning these momentary lapses in character into instances of pure joy and used them to fuel their abilities for inventing yet more comedic motifs that reappear at strategic points throughout.

Undoubtedly, Angus Shennon is one of the key members of the cast as he accompanies the musical numbers by playing keyboard on stage with the rest of the actors. His ability to predict when each actor is building up to create a song is extremely impressive as he takes and provides cues without any hesitation. Shennon also initiates one of the funniest scenes within the musical by encouraging Mark Woods to attempt to rap when he starts playing the chord sequence for Usher’s ‘Yeah!’.

Overall, whilst this performance is not without some awkward moments, this is the nature of improvised theatre and the overarching feeling is one of enthusiasm and hilarity. As this troupe has only been together for a month, I am sure that with more time and rehearsals their next DIM performance will be even better than their most recent outstanding New and DIMproved musical.

Image by DIM

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