Sex, Lies & Improvisation
Rachel E Thorn and Alex Keen
Between Us Improv
Unlike most shows at [email protected] Sex, Lies & Improvisation has previously been staged live in front of an audience. On stage, the concept involves Rachel E Thorn and Alex Keen improvising a play on themes put forward by the audience on condition the suggestions involve sex, lies or ideally both. Thorn and Keen alternate an improvised conversation between their characters with them addressing the audience direct to set out thoughts and motivations.
The same format is used for the online version: Thorn and Keen go through 16 suggestions put forward and consider three in depth. Two of them seem a bit trivial: soiling the bed after a drunken night out and blaming the dog or pretending to like the terrible band in which their partner plays. The selected option offers the most dramatic potential: a husband unaware his wife is still in love with a former boyfriend.
Hopes for Sex, Lies & Improvisation are not high. Radio 4 has, since lockdown, staged comedy shows which have compensated for the lack of a live audience by having participants show their appreciation for the efforts of colleagues. The result feels a bit smug; like laughing at your own jokes. Initially, it seems like Sex, Lies & Improvisation might be going down this self-satisfied route with Thorn and Keen chuckling over the suggestions they have received. Thankfully, once the improvisation begins, it is apparent the duo intends to play it straight.
The improvisation is staged as a long-distance Skype call between Alex—a globe-trotting salesperson—and Rachel—a GP taking a career break to raise their child. As in the stage version, between calls the performers give viewers a chance to hear their opinions on the call and plans for how to act as a result.
The improvisational skills of the performers are considerable but what makes Sex, Lies & Improvisation such a success is their ability as storytellers. This is not just an exercise in cold technique but the development of a compelling story. As the play opens, with Rachel’s gushing memories of the college boyfriend she has just encountered and reflections on whether such an intense relationship can ever be said to be over, the story looks likely to proceed as a sex comedy. Instead it takes a series of unexpected twists and turns during which the viewer gets the chance to form an opinion on the ex-boyfriend (who seems manipulative to say the least) and study Alex agonising over his parenting skills and the development of their child. The conclusion of the play, while very satisfying, is not what was expected.
Sex, Lies & Improvisation is a fine example of the craft of improvisation and the development of a gripping story. The play makes a smooth transition from live to online format and is well worth catching.
Reviewer: David Cunningham