Argus! The Musical
Show type: Misc live shows
Every performance is inspired by newspaper articles cut out by the audience just minutes before curtain time. This is improv like you may not have seen it before: no tricks or gimmicks or games, just a live, onstage comic exploration, through scenes and songs, of the secret heart of Brighton. It is the Brighton only hinted at by our local paper, but finally revealed by the comedic X-ray vision of the Maydays.
What a good idea this is: to take stories from the local newspaper and improvise scenes around them, topical and relevant to the town you’re performing in.
The ambitious part is that there is no formal structure to the sketches The Maydays construct from the headlines: no improv games to provide a reassuring framework, nor formulaic set-ups to get the creative juices flowing. The ethos is to just have an idea and go with it. Oh, and just to add to the challenge, sometimes the cast sometimes burst into song, too…
It’s a wonder this comes off at all, let alone as well as this talented sextet manage to achieve. There is a fair share of duds, to be honest, but generally the humour flows more freely that you might hope to expect.
Some of the stories pulled out of the hat are hardly inspiring – and makes you see why many local newspapers are in a parlous state. Seagull eats noodles was one yarn; another trivialised the horrific Sri Lankan civil war for a cheap publicity stunt, claiming the conflict would lead to a lack of coconuts for the shy at a local fate. Of these, the first sparked an imaginative scene about the gull-obsessed photographer who got the snap, while the flimsy premise of the second proved beyond the team’s wit and could produce only a dead-end idea.
Elsewhere, highlights included Jamie Oliver training up staff for his new store; a depressed Ken Dodd being cheered up before his gig and a teenage boy passing off his unkempt bedroom as an art installation.
The team seemed to lose their mojo in the interval, and the second half seemed to run out of steam more easily, a fact surely not helped by the fact it was by now way beyond midnight. But the big song-and-dance number about MPs’ expenses drew the show to a fitting finale.
Katy Schutte seems to be the driving force in many of the scenes, forcing the action onwards just to see what happens, while Heather Urquhart provided a flash of inspiration that turned a scene around more than once. Her idea that Dodd was down because his dad’s dog had died, for instance, was a stroke of genius.
But the star was not one individual performer but the instinctive rapport the whole company had between them. For one person to start a scene, perhaps not even with a line but just a pose, then others to gather around them to know roughly where the idea is heading takes practice, trust and talent, which this Brighton-based team have in spades.
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Brighton, May 2009