Conquering my fears of improv: Alphabetti Theatre's 'Write Faster!'

Charlotte Slinger reviews the recent Alphabetti Theatre production 'Write Faster!'

Charlotte Slinger
6th October 2019
Alphabetti Theatre
"See a brand-new play written and performed live before your very eyes. It's live writing. It's ridiculous. It could be pants."

So reads the description of Alphabetti Theatre's production 'Write Faster!' - and it proved very accurate. Theatre is definitely something I admire from a distance; I can appreciate or be touched a great play, but the thought of acting or even watching things like (shudder) 'improv' or interactive theatre has cemented me firmly on the spectator side of the stage. But if coming to uni has taught me anything, it's to try new things, and so when my friend invited me to try it out, off I went with a hangover and an open mind.

Alphabetti is a rather unsuspecting little theatre, not far from the Life Centre (or opposite Powerhouse, if that's a more notable landmark for you). With its chipboard walls, mini bookstore, and resident dog, the individual quirkiness of the place comes across straightaway, and inside, the theatre itself is small and very intimate (read: warm), so if or when audience participation rears its awkward head there's nowhere to hide!

'We were constantly aware of the creative process and able to see them responding to the first scene play out, as they simultaneously wrote the second.'

The host of the event had asked early arrivals at the theatre's bar for random phrases and words off the top of their head, and from this list one was chosen to be the play's title; Saturday's production was therefore called "I Found It Wrapped in Toilet Paper". This was decided at 8:45, the host told us, and by 9:30 we were sat down in the cosy theatre watching the first scene. The writers' table was actually onstage with the actors, and another was offstage typing on a very audible typewriter, meaning we were constantly aware of the creative process and able to see them responding to the first scene play out as they simultaneously wrote the second. By the third scene, the host was handing the three actors their lines from individual strips of paper piled on the stage floor, handed to him from the writers' little assembly line. Unsurprisingly leading to some pretty stilted dialogue, this was still an impressive feat on the spot and audience and crew alike were laughing at the whole process' spontaneity. Any cringe-worthy moments seemed less so because the cast and writers acknowledged and embraced them, as most productions aren't so quick to do!

The actors themselves responded to this spontaneity amazingly well - their ability to put so much confidence into a scenario they had read either 15 minutes or 15 seconds ago is something I definitely couldn't do. At one point, the lights were turned onto the audience to become an interrogated school assembly: one of the three actresses played a great headmistress role and her stern sarcasm was probably my most genuine moment of laughter.

image: Alphabetti Theatre, Lauren Stone

This said, it can't be avoided that the play itself wasn't a good one. There were inevitably awkward silences, some inconsequential dialogue and a couple of topics that I felt joking about or laughing at seemed in bad taste. So if a compelling plotline, flawless acting or laugh-a-minute comedy is what you are searching for in your evening's drama, 'Write Faster!' probably wouldn't be the place to go. But keeping in the mind that the act of speed-writing was the true focus of the production, I couldn't help being impressed with the idea of it all. It was an altogether different evening at such a friendly, alternative venue with my friends (and a reasonably priced bar), and Alphabetti even has a 'Pay What You Feel' scheme which is not only skint-student-friendly, but acknowledges the varying success of improv as advertised alongside the production.

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