March 21, 2019

I was walking the streets of London looking for some improvised film noir action

You don’t get many transvestite mechanics in theatre and when you do they’re rarely as much fun as Holly Georgia’s Steve, one of the stars of last night’s never seen before and never to be seen again, The Pimp from the Bakery.

Improv Noir were performing at the Etcetera theatre as part of the Camden Fringe. Edinburgh might be more famous but it isn’t the only fringe arts festival taking place at the moment. The Camden Fringe is in its 9th year and with 200 shows and 26 venues there’s  plenty of new work to see.
The all-female Improv Noir troupe have hit on a fun idea for an evening’s theatricals. Film noir is one of the great film genres and in every show they improvise a completely new noir story from audience suggestions. The result might not be Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil or Howard Hawk’s The Big Sleep but gives film fans an enjoyable mashup of noir tropes.

Improv Noir consists of Sayde Scarlett, Bhavnisha Parmar, Cecillie Aclon, Holly Georgia, Hayley-Marie Axe, Jade O’Sullivan and Annina Kaski. The actors are all on stage for the whole performance, standing at the sides and trying not to laugh when not in the action. The creation is an ensemble piece, but last night Hayley-Marie Axe took the lead, as a soldier returning to the garage he left four years before. His hair had grown, but that didn’t stop his workmates recognising him…

A few props, such as hats, guns and cigarettes are used to add atmosphere – I’d have thrown in a few Trench coats as well – but otherwise the fun is down to the unscripted words. Noir is a literate genre, with long diatribes, pithy comments and absurd statements – in Farewell My Lovely Chandler has Marlowe say The coffee shop smell was strong enough to build a garage on. These are hard to improvise, as are noir plots which are convoluted at the best of times. Trying to put together a noir plot on the hoof is going to be difficult and the attempt does lead to some repetition, exposition and confusion. But improv allows ludicrous plot points and statements to develop, Axe’s explanation of the importance of socks in times of war being an amusing example.

Films noirs are not inherently funny so the Improv Noir team has a battle in making the plot amusing. Often the jokes come from cast members pointing out anachronisms (‘A Lamborghini? In 1940?’) but the set-up definitely has comic potential. The story I saw was over-complicated – but The Big Sleep was so complex that the author himself famously had no idea who killed the chauffeur, so maybe that shows that Improv Noir really have got their film noir spoofs sorted.

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