Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Instant Musical

The Suggestibles
Northern Stage, Newcastle
(2007)

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At the end of a day which included three two hour meetings, computer problems which kept recurring as I tried - unsuccessfully - to get the morning BTG updates online and others which meant papers for one of the meetings weren't ready until the very last minute, and not very happy news about a friend's health, by evening I simply wanted to do something which was relaxing and made no demands on me at all. I found it at the theatre.

At Northern Stage, to be precise, which specialises (if theatres can be said to have specialisms) in theatre which makes demands on its audience, which often pushes the envelope.

The Suggestibles are a Newcastle improv group of six actors and a musician, and their show promises "comedy inspired by audience suggestions", in this case a musical which would be about an hour long. They asked for audience suggestions about themes, a musical style, a character trait, an emotion, as well as an unusual sign someone may have seen and an unusual prop which they could borrow for the shows. They write up the favoured suggestions on a blackboard, which is also a door in their very basic set of two doors and a few odds and ends, along with a rather large collection of hats. They then begin the musical.

Those who have seen the Channel 4 programme (now seemingly defunct) Whose Line Is It Anyway? will know exactly what it's all about.

They start with an ensemble piece and allow it to develop from then on, gradually working in the audience's suggestions (hence their name, of course).

The majority of the audience were clearly enthusiastic fans - and young. I confess at first I felt I was the grandfather, but then I noticed some (but not many) who were older than me, which made me feel a lot better!

It's obviously a different show every night, so reviewing the actual musical would be totally pointless. Occasionally the jokes misfire - but not very often. They are clearly comfortable working together and seem able to read each other's minds, and there were very few moments where things slowed down as they were frantically thinking, "What do we do next?" Even those moments were well covered, as the characters they created were funny in themselves.

It was a relaxing, undemanding, funny and enjoyable evening - the perfect way to finish off a day which had been demanding and not a little frustrating. And, to be honest, I've seen "chamber" musicals at the Edinburgh Fringe, with written libretto and composed music, developed and rehearsed, which were certainly less entertaining.

My only criticism is that, although they accepted my suggestion of a musical style (or, at least, it was written on the backboard), they didn't actually use it. I mean, why can't you use Gregorian Chant in a musical?

"Instant Musical" runs until Thursday. The Suggestibles appear at the Cumberland Arms in James Place Street, Ouseburn, Newcastle, every Friday at 8.30

Reviewer: Peter Lathan