What has illegal snail racing, bicycle pumps, bitterness caused by a love of kebabs and putting a bucket over your rhubarb got in common? They represent the collective imagination of the Nottingham public – or, to be more specific - were some of the suggestions put forward by the audience to help create the spontaneous courtroom drama Court in the Act! The action is played out by six actors who perform a variety of roles. Witnesses are called and cross-examined by the Counsels before the Jury (12 members of the audience) give their verdict on the evidence put before them.
The whole set-up felt very Radio Four - spontaneous, authentic, improvised comedy, but thankfully, not smug or self-congratulatory. There was no ‘did-you-see-how-we-did-that,-did-you?’ type humour, instead we were left to appreciate six consummate professionals who, more than anything, seemed to actually be enjoying themselves and were as happy mocking each other as they were the audience. This is essential with improvised comedy. The last thing you want is someone dying on their arse or any embarrassing silences. This isn’t to say that everything they tried worked but there was certainly nothing to leave the audience cringing.
The show was split in to two parts which was a surprise as I would imagine after gaining your momentum, the last thing you’d want is a break – especially given the complexity of the increasingly farcical storyline. But this was a good move as it invigorated the show, enabling further audience participation via a random anonymous object placed inside a suitcase which would become the first piece of evidence presented to the cast after the break. It was a subtle reminder too that the interval wasn’t an excuse to quickly come up with an ending.
Overall this was an enjoyable night’s entertainment. I think they’ve probably had better performances but it was worth the money and easy to see why it was such a success in the NEAT 11 Festival. The cast did particularly well considering large proportions of the audience were absolutely hammered. Although there wasn’t any heckling, there were bouts of alcohol-induced exuberance from one woman a few seats in front. However the excellent Peter Wear dealt with her perfectly on the break, ‘drunks will now be served. I mean drinks.’ Although each actor had their merits, Suki Webster, the shy, somewhat retarded animal lover who kept squirrels up her trousers and managed to save the Desmond Tutu Zoozoo from going bankrupt, was particularly funny and scarily quite believable. If only the Desmond Tutu Zoozoo was real. How great would life be if you could tell friends you were off there at the weekend…
Court in the Act! ran from 1 – 4 February at the Nottingham Playhouse.