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Brighton Review: Ten Thousand Million Love Stories
Published on Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Marlborough Theatre, Brighton. Reviewed by Mathilda Gregory on 16 January 2013
Next performing on Tuesday 19 February 2013 at 8:00pm.  Information and tickets.

For me, an improv night is novelty. You see, I don’t like improv. I’ve not liked it for years and years. Or, at least, I thought I didn’t like it.

But I’ve recently discovered the thing I don’t like is short-form improv. Which, to me, always seems to be some variant of: one gangly, floppy haired extrovert pretends to host a party, and tries to figure out that another gangly, floppy-haired extrovert is secretly an elephant. “Hello, I’m sorry I’ve knocked your hat off with my trunk”. For me, that stuff is nails down the blackboard. That is flames, flames on the side of my face.

But there’s another style of improv: clever, complicated, and relevant, made by people who practise a lot, and have the kind of spirit which drives them to do what terrifies most people. Like making up an entire play on the spot. And not just a play, but an interesting creative adventurous play, that isn’t like any scripted work I’ve ever seen. And this, this magical thing, happened three times in one night! Who wouldn’t be a fan of that?

Opening the show was Jason Delplanque’s premiere of Man, a one-man, improvised, ten-minute play based on a one-word suggestion of its location. Which gave us a story set in a Gypsy Caravan, about fighting, and male-honour and families. It was gripping. Most engaging of all was the minute or so at the beginning of the show when Deplanque – with delicious confidence – made us wait and wait for him to utter the show’s first words.

The rest of the first half was handed over to the flights of fancy brought by four-handed group Blanket Fort, who delivered a play in response to the word  “Flamingo”. This was an amorphous, high-energy splurge of a show, reaching out into all kinds of strange places and stretching ambitious wings with deft touches of surrealism. Even for a format that can tend to the ridiculous, this was the most wholly avant garde I’ve seen improv be. The show didn’t have the coherence that would have made it completely satisfying, and a few brilliant runners seemed to get lost too quickly; but this was a confident, engaging debut.

The evening’s main attraction was Ten Thousand Million Love Stories, a neat concept by two well-known Brighton improvisers, Heather Urquhart and Jules Munns. This was the debut of a show which encourages the audience to talk about their love lives during the interval, then uses the resulting passion-charged atmosphere to create an improvised love story.

Romance stories have a well-worn structure: the external and internal conflicts, the dark moment. Here, we did get star-crossed lovers – he was to the manor born and she was a rough diamond – but we didn’t get the forced antagonism that marks the traditional romance (you know how it goes: he had a cat, she had a dog, he hated dogs and fur started flying).  I really like the way they deviated from that well-worn path; what we got was something more real, despite flights of hyperbole.

The show managed to weave together three love stories in just 40 minutes. The A couple were sweet and oddball enough, and it was easy to root for them, but as so often the B couple – the heroine’s friend and her daffy barman lover – were clear favourites. The third couple, the hero’s parents with their joyously offbeat sex life, were enjoyable too. And the threads wove together in smart, generous ways, creating an innovative, magical success.

I did think at one point that the Marlborough Theatre, home of the Pink Fringe, was a slightly odd venue for a show that was – in this event – so resolutely heterosexual. But I get the impression that the list of couples whose tales are presented under the banner of Ten Thousand Million Love Stories will be nothing if not diverse.

The show was a sell-out and is returning, with a different bill, in February.  It would be exciting to see it develop into a monthly improv cabaret; the time is certainly right for it. Stand-up is looking increasingly brash and gladiatorial, and nurturing, co-operative, trust-focused improv feels very welcome to me. Could this be the future of comedy? I don’t know – because everyone is making it up as they go along and no one knows quite what’s going to happen. That’s what makes it exciting.

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