Though it may seem counterintuitive, investing more in the drama of their stories is the key for Project2 to anchor their narratives and create comedy gold.
Improvisers Katy Schute and Chris Mead begin Thirteen Cycles as an automated boarding message on a spaceship. Immediately, Rosemary Branch Theatre audiences are initiated into a world that will be expansive and imaginative. The pair are dressed in fantastic costumes by Catherine Lovett, ones that suggest they’re members of some enterprising crew on an intergalactic voyage whilst still hearkening back to the past era of kitschy sci-fi b-movie romps.
The pair take suggestions from the audience on where the story will begin and this particular incarnation of an improvised sci-fi film starts at a spaceship repair garage. The lights change and the Rosemary Branch Theatre is immediately transformed. Chris contextualises the scene by establishing their characters, and indeed throughout Thirteen Cycles, he is diligent in ever so subtly letting the audience know who the pair are playing. This helps to keep the action as clear as possible – but there are still some moments of dubiousness where it would have been beneficial to clarify characterisation more.
We flit between different scenes that (we learn later) take place on earth. The pair cover both the mundane and the vast, with plots that will be familiar to all of us. Chris even manages to squeeze in a joke about a cabinet in turmoil in a more political thread of their storyline. In another strand of the story, a gruff, slightly technophobic grandfather (played well by Katy) discourages his bright grandson from following his dream of becoming a pilot. In another, a young girl is imprisoned for more or less participating in a burgeoning revolution. One of the best scenes emerges from this girl’s trial where she valiantly uses that platform to try and inspire others to join the cause, only for her bumbling, but well meaning friend to further damn her. Despite occasionally corpsing, which of course breaks the magic, Katy and Chris work best when they are focused on the emotional drama of their scenes.
The pair interact with the sparse elements of their set well and as the story unfolds, these pieces help to further differentiate each scene. They even manage to integrate an “ad break” that incorporates an element of the storyline and this works to great comedic effect. In another scene, Katy and Chris become robots that whilst left alone fall into some sort of odd dance battle. Although this scene is also humorous, there is one narrative scene in the improvisation that does not immediately tie in with the others. It is a compelling moment with real emotion but the characterisation is not completely obvious. The pair manage to work elements from this scene back into the story in way that ultimately pays off but it could’ve been even more satisfying had a character been made that much more distinct.
A way in which scenes in Thirteen Cycles could be further differentiated is through the lighting. Throughout the play, there are projections across the walls and onto the set which – with a little more thought – could punctuate scenes. It would’ve also been slightly more rewarding to see both Katy and Chris interact with the lighting design as well to further augment the sci-fi genre in which their story dwells.
Katy and Chris have the makings of becoming an unstoppable improvisational duo. Whilst playing archetypal characters, they play them well and though they don’t have time to imbue each character with more nuance, digging further for more emotion will create even more rewarding scenes. They follow through with the various components of their story well and remember to revisit almost all of them but, with even more attentiveness to each strand, the pair could achieve even more improvisational heights.