Karaoke Theatre Company, New Vic Theatre, Newcastle-under-Lyme - review and pictures
"Theatre takes many forms," we're told by a member of the Karaoke Theatre Company before the last of their half-dozen skits. Sadly, by then we have a pretty good idea why karaoke has not won a place among them.
The disappointment is heightened given that Alan Ayckbourn, whose conceit this entertainment is, has demonstrated his mastery of so many theatrical forms over such a long period. There is no better proof of this than his 1987 hit Henceforward, revived brilliantly in the other half of this short Ayckbourn season.
The Company in the title consists of six actors and a stage manager, the initial letter of whose names spell K-A-R-A-O-K-E. The spoof programme notes suggest we're in for a clever send up of an 'improv troupe' self-obsessed with their own originality.
What we get is a series of not-very-original skits in which both wit and humour are thin on the ground. They are stretched thinner still by the actors' time-consuming effort and indisputable hard work in selecting, tutoring, and directing audience participation.
I enjoyed the first sketch most: a game of doubles tennis played without a ball. It was quick, smart, and drew plenty of laughs as the four audience volunteers making percussive noises mis-matched the racquet strokes of the players.
That was followed by a short bedroom farce; a Georgian drawing-room costume drama; a 'dubbed' Nordic-noir whodunnit; a Victorian gothic horror; and finally a disappearing-lady magic act.
We in the audience provided sounds for the door slamming shut, the squeaky floorboard, the broken bedspring, the seemingly endless raucous birdsong. It felt like an infant school being drilled for an end of term concert. Volunteers pulled on stage were hardly more engaged. They tapped coconut shells for horses' hooves, rumbled a thunder sheet, read from giant cue-cards.
Even the improvisation seemed tired. As the part of the audience in charge of producing birdsong to order became bolder (or more bored) an actor would reference a cock, then a vulture, then "Sounds like a bloody zoo out there. Have we sold it to the National Trust already?" When Dave from near the back row volunteered to be a 'guest star' and gamely chose to dress up as Miranda, reprieving her role in the drawing-room drama by reading her lines from cue-cards, I counted a half-dozen tedious references to his beard from the other actors.
I suspect Dave enjoyed himself enormously. Perhaps young Ben, who rattled a piece of plastic on the front row to make the sound of burning logs each time a red light shone on the fireplace, did too. And their friends and family laughed along. That's the spirit of karaoke, I suppose. And kudos to Ayckbourn for having a go. But I'll be hoping for something deeper next year.
By John Hargreaves