Battle Acts! at The Dogstar

Two teams of comics will battle through a series of improvising games tomorrow at 8pm at the Dogstar. Here, Corinne Furness from Write by Numbers theatre company, reviews the last Battle Acts! show – a taster for what might come tomorrow

“Give me a place two people might meet” Christopher Bailey, the compere of tonight’s BattleActs! demands.

“A cloakroom” someone shouts. “A morgue” someone else in the darkness of the upstairs room at the Dogstar offers.

“A cloakroom in a morgue” Bailey declares and so, once we’ve given them the opening and closing lines of the scene for good measure (“You didn’t call me” and “I think he’s alive” if you were wondering) the two teams set about improvising this scenario, only with a few more added complications because this is supposed to be a battle after all. It’s ridiculous and grotesque and, most of all, funny. Very funny.

BattleActs! takes two improv teams, plunges them into a set of games, mixes in a whole raft of audience suggestions and oddities and challenges each to come up with quickest, the cleverest or the funniest response (or ideally all three) in order to win points for their team. At the end of the night the winning team is showered with respect, applause and the love of the audience (possibly).

If the scoring is somewhat arbitrary, subject to the whims of both the audience and its misanthropic compere, then the rules of the games – and the eccentricity of the audience’s suggestions – aren’t. This is where the real challenge of BattleActs! lies; it’s the difficulty that compels.

Thus we get a “Greek-Gothic-Epic” about an Alchemist seeing a swan for the first time, a job interview for a Sociopath which features a scene stealing turn from a leek (with a leak) whilst, as punishment for “being a smartass”, one performer is forced to recite Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” speech from memory and without using the letter ‘e’ (which, to the audience’s obvious delight, he almost manages). It’s not just about the words though; the physicality of the performances stand up to the verbal dexterity on display. Over the course of the evening we get human plasters, elaborately gruesome deaths involving mimed chainsaws and spurting blood and a precarious trip across a rainbow (and the heads of the audience).

It’s almost inevitable in such a format that not everything quite hits the mark and some games (and indeed audience suggestions) work better than others. Yet the pace and the sheer invention of the performers mean that the energy never drops for too long. If you’re looking for something gloriously unexpected and laugh-out-loud entertaining then the Dogstar on the third Thursday of every month is where you should head. Just make sure you’ve got a better suggestion to offer than “spatula” when you’re asked to name a kitchen implement.