Always gluttons for punishment, the Uncertainty Division decided that in the exhaustion that characterises the final week of the Edinburgh Fringe, two shows weren't really enough to keep us occupied. So we looked for inspiration to another event which has been entertaining people this summer.
Our reasoning went along these lines: what else, apart from the Edinburgh Fringe, has been drawing people from all over the world to watch a variety of different performances (many of a comic nature) in buildings which weren't quite finished in time?
So, in the Athens of the North, underneath the Greco-Roman columns perched atop Calton Hill, the Uncertainty Division drew together improvisation groups from three different nations for a morning of competitive impro games - the Improlympics.
Our fake Olympic torch was carried (rather unnecessarily) from the bottom of the hill and once within sight was passed between nations - in keeping with the spontaneous nature of the event, there was a bit of pretend fighting and slow motion running to give the ceremony a comic edge. And then the fun began, teams performing in front of an excited crowd in vaguely Olympic-themed improv games.
Andrew McClelland, who made a medium-sized splash at the Fringe this year with his 'Somewhat Accurate History of Pirates,' had put together an Australian team, whilst Scotland's very own team the Improverts turned up to do battle on their home turf. We, the Uncertainty Division, represented England, and did it so
realistically that we lost.
Of course, there were only three teams, so we still walked off with bronze. And given that the event which finally lost us the contest was the 100 metre sprint, it might be argued that our contestant Phil Stott was at something of a disadvantage having already run with the Olympic torch all the way from the bottom of the hill. And who could really call us losers, when we successfully organised the thing and even persuaded Mark Watson to get out of bed to judge it?
Anyway, those sneaky Antipodeans walked away with gold, McClelland's skull and crossbones flag flapping over the stadium as if our event had been hijacked by pirates, and everyone left feeling joyful and slightly tearful. I can't help imagining that the actual Olympics probably started off in a similar way, just a few athletes arsing around on a hill, so who knows what the Improlympics may develop into?
McClelland's visible excitement at winning the event was nothing to his excitement on discovering that the venue our show was being performed at is in actual fact a Masonic Lodge. This has been a source of more than a little titillation for ourselves, what with storing our props in a temple filled with swords and tartan aprons (not to mention two full-size inflatable Daleks being used by the show before us). McClelland begged us to take him there, saying that he has been thinking of doing a show about secret societies. And so one evening we snuck into the temple and took photographs of McClelland examining the aprons and sitting in the Master's chair surrounded by Daleks. I imagine we've broken some terrible Masonic law, so it will be interesting to see whether McClelland's show materialises or if he just goes mysteriously missing before he's able to develop his ideas further.
With such bizarre diversions taking place on a daily basis, it has hardly seemed necessary to go to see shows. But one show did manage to out-weird everything else, namely 'The Paint Show'. This was the kind of show that
I feel might have developed as a result of a group of human statues deciding to do something constructive with their lives. And some paint. In essence, what happened was that we were given disposable boiler suits and taken into a room, where we were intimidated for an hour by a number of bizarrely costumed and painted performers, all to various thumping electronic dance beats.
The most talked-about intimidation involved the throwing around of paint, hence the need for the disposable boiler suits which kept out... ooh, a good 30% of the paint. But what wasn't talked about was the fact that the other 50 minutes of the show needed to be accounted for somehow, and this ultimately meant other, less painty humiliations. Some were quite good fun, like chucking plastic balls around and hitting each other with foam tubes. But there were moments when I wondered exactly what I was doing, as I was coaxed by yet another weird made-up actor into waving my hands and yelling like a child.
I left the show covered in paint and rather suspicious that I'd just experienced what a nightclub might feel like if I was a drug user.
The idea of chucking paint around is a nice one, though, and I hope to see it employed in the future in a more structured theatrical experience. Perhaps 'Henry V' with audience participation and paint?
Our own show continued to go well for the remainder of the Fringe, the only real frustration being the performers before us (the ones with the Daleks), who didn't seem to understand the need to get out of the theatre so that we could use it ourselves. This was even more of a problem with our second show - our cabaret show, the one which we pretty much built around the concept of messing around on stage in front of a paying audience. This was preceded in its final week by an Irish singer called Camille singing the songs of Jacques Brel. Lovely as some of her renditions were, she was somebody who clearly wasn't used to being hurried. To the extent that even if she was performing well into Uncertainty Division time, she might still throw in an encore.
Fortunately, both Camille and Brel have their idiosyncrasies and quirks, and so the final few shows were characterised by frequent impersonations of the bare-footed Irish singer wailing Frenchisms and quaffing red wine in a way that makes sense only to lovers of Brel. Our audiences (those that hadn't wandered off because they'd got bored of waiting for Camille to finish) might have been baffled, but the venue staff thought it was great. It was only on the final night that one of them bothered to tell me that Camille spent at least half an hour in her dressing room after each show and could hear everything we were saying.
If the Masons don't get me, Camille probably will.
Alas, yet also thank goodness, it's all over now. In the last month I have made some friends, and some enemies, seen many shows, and improvised twenty-five completely new and spontaneous ones. That some of them will never be seen again is genuinely sad, because there were a few bloody good ones. But that's improv... and it's still possible to catch the show (whatever it turns out to be on any particular night) at 7.45pm at the Baron's Court Theatre, London, between 28th September and 3rd October.
You could do a lot worse than check it out. It may not quite recapture the crazy fun that is the Edinburgh Fringe, but neither will it be delayed by an Irish singer wailing Frenchisms into a microphone.