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Bright lights of comedy at Birmingham festival

By Andy Richardson | Entertainment | Published:

The countdown is on for Birmingham’s Improv Comedy Festival, with the UK’s best talents set to descend on the Second City.

Birmingham Improv Festival

A week of world-class improv is in store, with workshops for kids, nine Birmingham-based groups and a Gala Event in aid of Birmingham’s Children’s Hospital.

Following its inaugural opening last-year the countdown is on for the return of Birmingham Improv Festival 2017.

Opening on Monday and running until October 29 at the Blue Orange Theatre, fans can expect a riotous week of mayhem, comedy, drama, singing and rapping with all scenes decided by suggestions from the audience at every performance.

After a phenomenal sell-out show in 2016 the festival is delighted to welcome back the amazing talent of the West End’s Olivier Award-winning Showstopper the Improvised Musical.

With a BBC Radio Four series and eight years of festivals and touring to their name, The Showstoppers have delighted audiences around the world with their ingenious, unique blend of comedy, musical theatre and spontaneity.

After sell-out shows at Edinburgh, Finland and Barcelona Festivals, The Maydays (Brighton/London) make their Birmingham debut with Happily Never After a word-of-mouth success that raises the bar on what’s possible with improvised theatre.The gothic-tale, just in time for the Halloween season, is created from a single audience suggestion.

The Maydays will weave a playful tale, full of black comedy and haunting songs, in a loose homage to cult director Tim Burton’s gothic style, with influences from Lemony Snicket, the Brothers Grimm and dark fairy tales.

Jon Trevor, Birmingham Improv Festival Director, says: “It’s 21 shows with 24 companies and our tag line this year is Bigger, Better, Brummier.

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“Last year was an amazing success. It was the first year and we’d never done anything like it before. It was just a punt. It took place over one weekend in the Blue Orange Theatre. We had 10 shows and 8 workshops. We sold so much better than we expected. Our overall box office was 80 per cent. We had people queuing for tickets. We were blown away by how successful it was.

“So it’s a full week this year and we’ve doubled in size. Last year was top talent from around the uk, but this year it’s a balance between top talent and headline acts and a lot of local talent.” Jon says people loved improv because the unexpected was always just around the corner.

“Improv is a group of people, not a single one. It’s not scripted – unlike stand up. It’s sketches, songs, stories and scenes made up in the moment.

“The joy is to be made in the moment. It’s completely creative. Whatever the performers do, they’ll never do it again. The audience experiences something that nobody else ever does.

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“The best description I’ve heard of improv is likening it to a football match. If you’re playing football, you don’t know where the ball will be in the match but that doesn’t stop you training to pass it when it reaches you.

Most improv is funny but it’s a different kind of laughter. It’s a laughter of understanding, of recognition. Sometimes the audience can see the struggle of the performers.”

This year’s festival features nine of the best improv groups to come out of Birmingham including Jumprov, the UK’s first B.A.M.E. (Black and Ethnic Minority) group and Foghorn Unscripted, an established group of comedy improvisers who bring their show What The Dickens?! to the festival stage.

Further highlights include Waiting for the Call, the UK’s original all-female long-form musical improv team, with their hit show Notflix; an evening of improvised rapping from MC Hammersmith; The Committee, one of London’s hottest Improv groups; Nottingham-based Rhymes Against Humanity and Nottingham and Leicester-based The Same Faces one of the Midlands’ leading Improv groups.

New to the festival are performances and workshops for kids especially for half term. Highlights include The Showstoppers Kid’s Show, an improvised musical show for all ages, presented by three of the 2016 Olivier Award-Winning Showstoppers.

There are workshops available for adults too, plus the festival is particularly delighted to host a two-day intensive workshop for experienced improvisers, focusing on ensemble storytelling.

The workshop will provide a rare chance to work with Jon Bolden the award-winning director, instructor, and improvisational actor from The Hideout Theatre in Austin, Texas.

The final day of the 2017 Festival sees a special Gala performance in aid of Birmingham Children’s Hospital, where 14 of the best improvisers will battle it out in an exciting improv competition.

The 2017 Festival closes in style with Music Box, one of the longest running improv companies on the UK comedy circuit. A five-star show, the current cast includes names from some of the UK’s most notable Improv companies including The Maydays, Impromptu Shakespeare, TheatreSports and Glitch.

l Full festival-line-up, further information on Workshops and to book tickets please go to birminghamimprovfestival.com. Tickets are priced from £6-£15 (concessions £5).

Andy Richardson

By Andy Richardson
Feature Writer - @andyrichardson1

Feature writer and food critic Andy Richardson interviews celebrities, writes columns and hangs out with chefs for stories that appear across all group titles.

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