We sit in the new Scruffy Bunny Improv Theatre, ready to watch Clare Kerrison's Infernal Recall. Clare Kerrison herself potters around, asking us (wisely) to move forward, since “it’s an intimate show”. She then adds, “oh but don’t worry, not touching-intimate”.
I won’t spoil the storytelling ‘game’ too much, but it is brilliant, and the audience responds with surprising sharpness. The form certainly keeps the audience actively engaged. Although it has the risk of getting tedious, Clare’s skill of judging pace mostly manages this elegantly. The piano playing also offers simple, sensitive support throughout, mixes reflective, poignant tones with a range of more adventurous moods.
The show’s structure refreshingly alternates between between Clare Kerrison’s storytelling, and support scenes played by Jennifer Alice, Sarah Kirwin, Michelle Marlowe and Dianne Pulham, and Christine Brooks, who are both strong as an ensemble and in their own right. Both Clare and the ensemble offer a range of styles, without falling short on the outrageous. They balance each other’s energies, but offer a generous amount of satisfying silliness in both plot and character. Perhaps this is embedded in the form or perhaps it is partly determined by the audience. The highlight of my night is absolutely Clare’s full-committed portrayal of her uncle in the story, with the “voice of Louis Armstrong” and the physicality of “a gorilla”.
The scene-breaks simultaneously act as palate cleansers, a device to broaden the world of the story, and also contribute more offers for Clare to tie in later. If scenes start to stall or move in an unwanted direction, the ensemble look after each other, or Clare jumps in with the next part of the story. Clare is not shy about using these scene-breaks as a chance to come up with the next part of the story, and that’s what I love about it. It is almost a meta-theatrical wink.
The adventurous stories are set in Wellington areas of the audience’s choosing, and last night it was the Botanic gardens. Clare mentions her Dad was finding the perfect flower to breed, and I make a shocked reaction, partly because I am a big reacter, and partly because the show puts me in a responsive mood. Clare assures me not to worry because it’s not that kind of breeding. At this point I am hyperventilating with laughter and Clare gives me a fan to help calm me down. That is pretty much me for the rest of the show - having trouble breathing from laughing so intensely and Clare checking in with me. I become inspiration or reason for “steamy” scenes to be both introduced and then cut off right before anything happens.
Clare carries an exotic fan while she narrates, which initially feels like an odd choice. I am not sure how it fits with the character or premise of the show, other than as a signifier for Clare as a storyteller. However, Clare incorporates it into her improvised storytelling in hilarious ways. In our show, she uses it to describe how “muggy” the weather was, and gives it to me whenever I seem overwhelmed! Claire stands out in the foreground with a bright green, patterned top. The ensemble generally wears black with the odd coloured or patterned. These accents area nice touch of character for the black and white staging. However, I am mostly too engrossed in the characters and scenes to notice.
Clare Kerrison's Infernal Recall is a creative adventure of collective imagination, and I highly recommend being part of the adventure. This show is risk-taking, silliness, and audience-contribution at its best.
There is just one more chance to see this show as part of NZ Fringe 2017, on Saturday 3 March, at Scruffy Bunny Improv Theatre.