I had not heard of The Bristol Improv Theatre before, so when we were invited to review their improvised Pick Your Own Panto show, I was intrigued. Normally a Pantomime is pretty formulaic, and I was wondering how a show where the audience is in charge of what happens would work. Also, as I’m not really a Panto fan, I was steeling myself for an afternoon of tolerating it all for the sake of my children. As it turned out, the show proved to be a real little gem.
The Bristol Improv Theatre (otherwise known as the BIT) was formed in 2012 by a small group of actors, directors and educators with a passion to create and promote the art of improvised theatre. In March 2017, the organisation reopened their theatre after months of refurbishment. The theatre itself is tucked away just off the main drag in Clifton and is the first improv theatre of its kind in the UK. Despite still needing lots of work to make it the first class arts venue that the team envision, it has a great feel to it and lots of potential. We were settled into the small but perfectly formed little theatre space, which felt cozy and intimate, no doubt putting some first time theatregoers at ease. The actors were already on the stage and interacting with the children, who were encouraged to draw their favourite place in the world. As the show started, these drawings provided the first bit of improvisation for the actors, as the setting for the show would come from one of the artworks. Wonderfully enough, the scene that was chosen was… a caterpillar, drawn by a particularly enthusiastic three-year-old audience member! Not even this could faze our cast, as they threw themselves into the story and ran with everything that was thrown at them. Including a load of soft toy rats at one point…
As I’ve already mentioned, I am not a Panto fan. The Bristol Improv version of this seasonal Christmas staple? I loved it, and so did my five and eight year old daughters. Our obligatory Pantomime Dame played by Rob Eggington, who is also the producer of Pick Your Own Pantomime, expertly held the show together. He was funny and good with the kids, with just enough clever adult humour to keep us amused too. The actors were all clearly having fun, there was plenty of audience participation but without being too intimidating for anyone, silly songs, ridiculous plot discrepancies and lots of laughter from the audience. In most theatre reviews I would give you an overview of the plot but there is little point me telling you about ours as yours would be something else entirely. As my five year old so eloquently put it after the show, “Daddy, our show was just for us. Every show is different for everyone!”
All three of us had a great time this afternoon at the show, and much to my surprise I found myself wishing that I was also heading to the adult only show tonight where the jokes are ruder, the costumes more risqué and the subject matter altogether less family friendly. I’ll be seeking out more from the BIT team, I loved the venue and I loved this show.
Review by Karen Blake