As much as I love improvised theatre as an art form, it comes with one drawback. From a certain perspective, reviewing a show can feel redundant, given the very nature of improv is that every show is “one and done”. Every performance is different, thus no two shows are ever the same.

But that is also its charm. The audience goes on a shared journey with the performers as no one knows what is truly going to happen. In order for this to be successful, the skill, talent and presence of the performers become a central focus. They are after all, the writer, director and actor all in one.

Improv has grown in popularity in Ireland logarithmically over the past number of years and a strong calibre of talent has emerged. Gerard Donnelly is one person on the improv scene to watch. His show, Totally Made Up, which I caught earlier this month takes a bold stride with the art form by performing solo and combining improv, acting, storytelling and poetry. Despite Donnelly sharing that the show is a work in progress, a real passion comes across in what he staged. Improv is minimalistic; often with no costumes, set or props, therefore the performers must hold their own and allow the audience to suspend disbelief. And thats exactly what he does here.

Donnelly takes audiences suggestions live, and creates stories and poems from those suggestions, in a performance that almost feels rehearsed. There’s no cheap laughs or winks to the audience here. Donnelly’s passion and commitment for the show comes across from the start. Every word and movement is delivered with purpose, something that is often missed in improv. There’s no audience teasing or massaging of audience suggestions, Donnelly translates each suggestion in to a performance on its own. His transitions are hard and fast, as if he has flicked a switch from MC to actor.

This is how improv should be presented. Comedy delivery seriously. It’s always refreshing to find an improv show that captures this, particular one where that is a solo show. There’s no in-jokes among performers here, just a solid performance and a highly entertaining performance. A perfect show length too that doesn’t overstay its welcome.

You can find more of Gerard Donnelly’s work here.


Review: Totally Made Up @ Accidental Theatre, Belfast

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