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Review of An Improbable Musical on at Hackney Empire

Guest review by Deborah Russell

Exterior of Hackney Empire showing the sign
photo credit Jane Hobson

Those of you who know the Hackney Empire, are aware that it’s a beautiful old theatre with over 120 years of history and a strong supportive base in Hackney, if not London wide. Built originally as a music hall in 1901, An Improbable Musical felt right at home here in this home of song and dance.

The cast of Improv the musical standing on the stage with backs to the theatre seating
The cast of Improv the musical - photo credit Jane Hobson

Led by and starring Josie Lawrence, best known for her work with the Comedy Store Players improvisational troupe, the television series Whose Line Is It Anyway? and as Manda Best in EastEnders but very ably supported by Ruth Bratt of Man Down, People Just Do Nothing and A Very Serious Game fame, it followed the tried and tested method of improv by asking the audience for a Word, a Place and the Name of a Book, last night we got Lackadaisical, Herb Garden and Murder and A Whispering Wind.

I’m always impressed with improv, I mean how do they do it? Neither the audience, nor indeed the cast, will ever completely know what they’re about to get. I suppose part of the skill lies in knowing which of the audience suggestions to pick, but the art is in how to wend that into a storyline. And not just for the cast. On stage we had musicians, puppeteers – all of whom obviously have to tell a different story each time too, with a host of props for them to choose from. So this time we got a duck puppet made from tea cups, saucers and a tea pot, very clever and a series of songs made up on the spot.

For an hour and a half we were entertained with a host of characters, some of whom commit murder, some have affairs, some do gardening. There was singing and dancing, musicians playing along and brilliantly gauging the potential needs of the cast and required rhythms with percussion, flute and cello. My particular favourites were ‘Nobody Loves You; and the finale song ‘Pick Your Herbs In Your Own Garden’ which had the audience still singing and bobbing around to the tune as they left for the hostelries of Hackney.

And it was funny, real laugh out loud funny, observational comedy delivered by a genuinely talented cast. I mean we knew Josie could sing, or at least those of us who were regular viewers of Whose Line is it Anyway but I had no idea Ruth had such a good voice.

Quite a few expletives of the ‘f’ type but hey, it was all in the best possible taste. Some banter between the cast too and the characterisations were excellent, the old, the young, the sexually frustrated, straight, gay, smoking school girls wiv attitude. Plus the ducks, exploding ducks to be precise. You had to be there.

Other cast members included Niall Ashdown and Adam Courting, and it was directed by Lee Simpson with Musical Devisor and Director, Christopher Ash. The Puppeteers were Aya Nakamura and Clarke Joseph-Edwards.

The show is only running for a few days until 26th October, which seems a short, so get your tickets quick. A good night out that will then tour the UK in spring 2023, including Gulbenkian Theatre (13 – 15 April), with further tour dates to be announced.

Address: 291 Mare Street, London, United Kingdom, E8 1EJ


£33 – £16 (plus £1.15 per ticket online, £1.35 per ticket over the phone)

Concessions available.

Running time: 1.5 hours, with no interval

Age Guidance: 14+

Post show talk: Tue 25 Oct (free to ticket holders)


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