‘Improv’ is key to this comedy chaos
01 March, 2019 — By The Xtra Diary
BattleActs! team members
Working as part of the Battle Acts theatre company crew all started for actor and dancer Chris Eastwood when he landed a job scaring people.
Bizarre, you may think, but Chris had bagged himself a role at that famous and fabled Marylebone Road institute of wax, Madame Tussauds, and was handed a role hanging out in the chamber of horrors and other frightful rooms.
Chris was paid to basically put the fear into those unfortunates who had decided to leave the waxy celebs behind and venture into the inner sanctum of the place.
And it was here he met another actor, Sean Garrett, who told him about the theatre company he worked with, the award-winning troupe known as BattleActs.
This was almost a decade ago, and now Chris is a central figure in the company, who have become renowned for their extraordinary improvisational comedy shows.
They are appearing all next week just across the river at The Vaults in Leake Street, and for those who have seen them out and about at places such as the Edinburgh Festival and camp Bestival, or heard them on Radio One, you’ll know a little of what to expect. Namely, the unexpected.
The seven-strong gang of jokers, wise-crackers, and fast-talking comedy deviants offer a mixture of challenges that to the layperson – and the uninitiated audience – seem absolutely impossible.
Then there is the physicality of the show, which also stars Anna Leong Brophy, Brendan Murphy, Emily Lloyd- Saini, Kiell Smith-Bynoe, Michael Keane and Oliver Izod. Watch them live and you begin to see how unique and exceptional these actors are.
Contortion, battles of wits, fights against invisible giants and jokes plucked from the atmosphere around them are (sometimes – who knows with improv?) the order of the day – and then a terrifying public vote to declare a winner.
“I became involved fairly early on,” Chris tells Diary. “There was a group of people who had been at the East 15 drama school and taught by the legendary theatre impresario Ken Campbell.
“They decided to get a company together, and one of them was Sean, who I spent some happy hours jumping out on unsuspecting tourists with.”
Their show consists of teams of two and a compère; and plenty of guidance from the floor.
“We battle against each other for an hour, we compete in games and we take suggestions from our audience,” says Chris.
“Then they judge which team has won each round by giving it some noise.”
So how does one prepare to stand up in front of a boisterous crowd, with no script, and take on other silver- tongued, slick-speaking joke generators?
“We don’t plan anything,” says Chris. “You can’t prepare what you are going to do, or what you are going to say. It has to be completely improvised.”
And taking to the stage in front of scores of rowdy people, all expecting some biting repartee (and basically hoping to get a laugh, one way or another), without any script at all might sound like your average actor’s idea of hell. But for Chris and his colleagues it’s all part of the fun.
“It can be very scary,” he says. “The first time I did it, I ran off stage at the end and had the biggest surge of adrenaline I have ever had running through my body. I have performed many times on stage as an actor and a dancer, in other roles, but I’d never done it with absolutely no idea what was going to happen. You are very naked, and people are waiting for you to fail.”
And, of course, the audience is the key. “The company know each other really well so that helps, but also we need to read our audiences,” he says.“There are some who love the late-night jokes, the post-pub crowd, and then there are others who are more erudite and love the bizarre stuff.”
Most of all it’s important the performers leave any inhibitions they have back stage.
“You have to be able to really let go,” says Chris. “You just have to jump. If you throw yourself into it, you get the audience behind you.”
So – check out BattleActs at the Vaults between March 6 and 10, and prepare to be amazed.