Audience participation can be the most nerve-wracking, humiliating phenomenon of live theatre. Choose the wrong seat and you’re destined for an hour of eye contact, line reading or worse: onstage physical participation.
But when it comes to improv, audience participation is used as a force of sadistic power against the performers, as viewers run the show by shouting out suggestions: who, what, where, when or why – audience participation takes back control in improvised shows.
There is no audience participation in Closer Each Day, the world’s longest running improvised soap opera.
A dozen characters, crafted with verve and visible charisma (in some cases), play out each new episode of the ongoing soap opera, every other Monday at the Wardrobe Theatre. As you take your seat, programmes by your feet provide a recap of recent installments. If you’re a regular attendee it’s a good “Previously On…” refresher, and if you’ve just stumbled in, this should hopefully give you a rough idea of what you’re in for.
But as the show begins, the opportunities for interactive genius seem unlikely. The lights fade up, two characters riff about some deep-rooted family issues (amusingly, always). The lights go down, and when they come up again, another pair is chatting in another standard domestic situation. Next time, a woman sits on her own on a chair – she’s funny for five seconds, and then leaves the stage.
Rinse and repeat, over and over – this is the structure of the “improvisation”. But to admit a structure, at least one that’s visible to a new audience member, defeats the point of improvisation. Instead of wondering how they’re doing it, you’re just left wondering why.
There are some amusing moments, granted, but too few in a performance that is all too comfortable with the substantial amount of pauses and awkward moments of menial silence-fillers. The show seems to rely on returning audience members, a now very loyal fanbase, to keep the comedy afloat. For a new viewer, it’s not so satisfying.
In the end, Closer Each Day feels like unrehearsed sketch comedy as opposed to improvised soap opera. Some characters have potential and benefit from the odd light-bulb moment, but there is a distinct lack of impressive quick-thinking or improvisation that makes you actually take it seriously. If you’re going to see this for the first time, maybe prepare to shout out a suggestion just in case. You might be able to save it.
Originally published on Bristol24/7