Edinburgh Fringe 2011
A tailor-made production created anew for each new audience, The One Hour Plays is suitable for all ages – a fun, creative, impressive feat of improvised theatre. A talented and hard-working team of writer, costume-maker, director, assistant director and actors create a unique play based on ideas from the audience.
Audience members are asked to suggest a genre, a setting and a time period, three characters, a goal and obstacle for the protagonist, and a title. They also propose three props, and then we are away. The Assistant Director starts the clock, and the writer has 30 minutes to write a script. Meanwhile, the costume designer gets to work, audience members are roped in as prop makers, and the director holds auditions for the three actors. Having cast the show, the director leads various improvisation games for character development, and then the writer’s time is up, and the show begins. On the day I was there our show was a thriller set in 60s Edinburgh about a love triangle between a greengrocer, an undertaker and a bishop, entitled The Black Aubergine.
Amongst the Fringe’s mixed range of improvised theatre, The One Hour Plays is an original and well thought-out experience. The performers have honed their improvisation techniques, and are confident under pressure without being complacent or self-indulgent. Each member of the company has a clearly defined role and is able to carry it out successfully under pressure. Rebecca Boey’s writing is impressively funny and well-plotted considering the short time she has to write it in; unflappable Lorna Watt’s costumes are an equally impressive reflection of each character and the chosen period; the actors are able comic performers; and the whole process is tightly coordinated by director Brendan Murphy and his energetic assistant director. Audience participation can be intimidating and uncomfortable but The One Hour Plays has perfected the dynamic, making it truly feel like the audience is part of the company. Murphy’s interaction with the audience is unthreatening, and inclusive whilst being tightly controlled.
Due to the audience being different every day, I imagine different aspects have variable success in different performances. On the day of The Black Aubergine, the audience was quite small and reticent: only a few of us volunteered ideas when they were elicited by Murphy. I imagine with a bigger, livelier audience this process would be more dynamic and more of an entertainment in itself. There was a weak moment when an artistic volunteer was asked for to design the poster and none were forthcoming. Perhaps this moment works with larger, more participatory – or more artistic –audiences, but in this particular performance it seemed unnecessary and could be cut, along with the assistant director’s fruitless attempt to recruit more audience members from the venue using the poster, as these moments added little to the event.
This is a clever, ambitious idea successfully carried out by a talented and confident company who all pull their weight, which I recommend. I would happily see it again, knowing that each entirely different performance of The One Hour Plays will be just as enjoyable as The Black Aubergine.