2015 London Improvathon – Inquest & Review

2015 Improvathon. Images Claire Bilyard
2015 Improvathon. Images Claire Bilyard

The 2015 London 50-hour Improvathon at the LOST Theatre ended at 9pm last night with a very disturbing reading of the Vagina Monologues by three legendary male Australian actors, at least the fourth rousing rendition of Riverdance, and some hilariously murderous text sex that literally had one of the actors ROFL-ing off the stage.

At the 48-hour point, Stage Review’s Sarah Cox caught up with Canadian actor, writer, voiceover artist and improv god Mark Meer and several of the superfans who had been in the audience since Friday night.

[She also had a chat with Justin Brett, aka fixer of toilets and breaker of hearts and Flint Fredstone, but the recorded conversation disappeared somewhere into a problem iPhone… Or did sleep deprivation cause us to hallucinate the whole thing? Sorry Justin..]

This is Meer’s 27th full-length Improvathon. He’s taken part in all eight London shows and a number in Canada with Die-Nasty, an improvised soap opera running in Edmonton since 1991.

Their annual Soap-A-Thon crept up from 48 to 53 hours, until Meer persuaded them that 50 is a nice round number that also lets people get home more easily afterward.

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Up-close he looks no different to how he did three days ago. There’s not even a hint of bloodshot eyes. But how’s he feeling?

“Just fine actually. The first few times you do the Improvathon, it’s like dropping acid or going crazy. You will have visual and auditory hallucinations, paranoia, spatial relationships will be strange, you’ll be skittish, and also exhilarated, all three back and forth. Certainly exhilarated by the end.

“By the fifth or sixth time that you’ve done it all the way through all of that slowly falls away and now these days I get very tired when I do these but I don’t actually go round the bend.”

As a former sufferer of insomnia, well-used to bizarre hallucinations (a lot of black flies in the room, the occasional limb detaching itself from my body and ending up in my bed..) I can’t say I’d want those days back, but Meer actually misses it.

“It added to the whole vision quest aspect of this,” he explains. “I was always a night owl so I took to this straight away. But I think given the choice I’d get some of that back, some of that giddiness, because I see people doing it for the first time and in some way I envy them.”

A couple of actors completing the full 50 hours this year were first-timers, including Showstoppers’ Justin Brett (he’s dropped in and out before but never done the whole thing) and Ali James, playing film runner turned superstar actress Kitty. Both made it look easy.

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What tips would Meer give to anyone who thinks they’re up to the challenge next year?

“Stay hydrated, eat constantly – the event is catered, we have food for the actors back stage. Usually around [the 48hr mark] we might crack a few beers. I tend to stay away from it, some people I know will have a beer at night on the Friday and Saturday.

“Stay away from coffee as a crutch. have your coffee when you’d normally have it but just mainlining coffee to stay up will be counterproductive, you’ll dehydrate, you’ll crash. And stay away from big sugar intakes, you’ll get a big crash as well.”

Front-row fans Robbie, Arfie, Gareth and James, are Improvathon veterans. Robbie and James are now on their sixth. Gareth booked tickets for the first couple of shows last year but ended up addicted, like me, and stayed for over 24 hours.

They avoided alcohol entirely over the weekend, and owed their stamina to eggs, pizza, Tesco Value energy drinks and a lot of dancing around on the street outside during the intervals.

“You can usually watch something and think something else at the same time,” says Gareth, a 31-year-old software engineer. “But my ability to multitask has completely gone.”

Last year Robbie Bellekom, a drama student at E15, started seeing everyone on the stage in 2D, like they were cardboard cutouts, while this year Arfie is certain the stage is moving up and down and covered in liquid.

Bravo to the 30-year-old civil servant and occasional improviser himself, whose only break from the show came when he had to go to an audition after not sleeping for two nights.

Having watched more than 22 hours of the 50 hour show, I’ve been blown away by the stamina, passion and talent of the cast and crew.

You leave feeling absolutely privileged to be one of just a hundred or so people in the world, or ten if you stayed for the whole thing, who’ll experience what you’ve just experienced – because it can’t ever be repeated.

Trying to explain how and why anyone wants to go to the theatre for 50-hours straight to anyone who doesn’t get it, is a tough one, even for Londoners used to the weird and wonderful things that go on in this city.

Just give it a go next year – you’ll leave euphoric. Watch from the start for the best experience. Oh and take a pillow. I’m not sure the feeling has fully returned to my bum yet.

The 9th annual London 50-hour Improvathon, directed by Adam Meggido, will be back early next year, at a time and location tbc.

Review Rating
  • 2015 Improvathon
5

Summary

Hallucinations and a test of endurance for the cast and audience. The hilarious ★★★★★ 2015 London Improvathon ended after 50 hours last night.

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