One of my favourite things about London is its offering of museums, and not just the classics, like the V&A and the Science Museum. You can come across a lot of hidden gems if you know where to look and the Grant Museum of Zoology is one of those. It’s also what acts as the stage for Muso by Impropera, a fun little show combining two niche art forms: improv and opera.
After a long, hard day at work, I walked into the Grant Museum for the second time in my life, and was offered the opportunity to explore the museum before the show started.
15 minutes later, the audience took their seats and the members of Impropera welcomed us all to Muso. We started as we meant to go on: with an improvised number about what the exhibits of the museum say when the lights go off at the end of the day – “let’s go party,” if you were wondering – before the Impropera team introduced their expert speaker: Professor Chiara Ambrosio. We were offered the chance to do more museum exploration: this time armed with tiny flashlights and Grant Museum postcards, and asked to write down any observations we have or thoughts that occurred to us as we explored. These would become inspiration for the performances the cast gave.
The rest of the evening consisted of beautiful voices; a lot of laughter; and extensive educating. Professor Ambrosio spoke to us about Darwin and Mary Lyle – who may have had a much bigger hand in forming Darwin’s ideas than we’ll ever know – a lovely thing to learn on International Women’s Day. We were introduced to a colleague of Professor Ambrosio: a volcanologist who explored the nature of volcanoes with us. All in all, it was a delightful experience.
It was such a delightfully diverse audience as well. There were the elderly men in suits that you would expect at a show like that but also trendy twenty-somethings in beanies and oversized jumpers, and that kind of audience variation makes me very happy, especially at such a specific type of show.
I found myself thinking about the difficulty in reviewing the show because it was more of an informational lecture accompanied by operatic stylings. So, I’ll put it this way: Muso is equally as entertaining as it is educational, though one must remember to take the teachings provided by the cast with a pinch of salt. If Professor Ambrosio hadn’t been on hand, the audience may have walked away believing a shell fossil was an Ancient Roman sex toy. I’ll leave it up to you to decide what kind of sex toy it might have been and then imagine a whole song centred around how it would have been used in Ancient Roman times. If you’re not already laughing, book yourself into an upcoming Muso show; who knows what sex toys they’ll sing of next?
Our orchestra consisted of two men – Anthony Ingel and Pete Furness – though if you hadn’t have been watching them, you’d never have guessed it was just the two of them. I’m telling you: improv musicians blow my mind, and Ingel and Furness were no exception: their accompaniment was smooth and cohesive, providing the singing cast with the perfect backbone for their made-up masterpieces. From my research, it seems as though the cast for Muso can change according to each show. This evening’s cast was Nick Allen, Louise Crane, Susan Bisatt and Philip Pellew. I couldn’t find the men listed on the Impropera website so they may be new additions to the cast. But again, you wouldn’t have guessed; they blended so well with the women and with each other. The Impropera company give off a strong sense of togetherness and they make a fantastic team.
My only complaint was the amount of audience participation: I expected there to be a bit more than there was. Including the first number, there were only three numbers inspired by audience suggestion. And though I learned a lot about volcanoes, I did think we’d get more exploration of the Grant exhibits themselves. It seemed to me that they could have allowed themselves more time to interact with the suggestions given by the audience; with all the information given to us by the professors and the performances Impropera offered off of that information, only two cards of the, approximately, thirty or forty in the box were even touched. I’m all for leaving the audience wanting more but with such changeable material, Muso has the potential to be a bit longer than the just short of 90-minute performance we were treated to. And I definitely endorse them fully utilising that potential.
For more information on upcoming Muso shows and tickets, see http://www.impropera.co.uk/whats-on.html