A unique piece of improv theatre is currently underway at the Rosemary Branch Theatre as Erin McGathy directs Thirteen Cycles, a science fiction adventure. The audience is taken on an intergalactic mission by improvisers Katy Schutte and Chris Mead, who create an entire world (or multiple) and a show, out of a fantasy location given to them by the audience.
Thirteen Cycles gets its cosmic feel from Catherine Lovett’s space suit design and Fred Deakin’s role as the musician and art director. As you take your seat, the music somehow reminds you of every sci-fi film ever, preparing you for what’s to come. Deakin is sat on the stage and his presence is slightly distracting, but the celestial sounds and strange visuals undeniably add to the show’s unpredictability. The technical side of things is by no means perfect, but the beauty of improv is that the cast is able to acknowledge and use the ‘interactive’ visuals glitches to make the show funnier.
The version of the show I watched, following an audience suggestion, was set on a spaceship where time was constantly in flux. Schutte and Mead managed to turn the audience hint into a story of an earthly evacuation midst a humanitarian and environmental crisis – no mean feat! Though the story did pop back down to earth every now and then. The simple staging is made up of moveable blocks and walls but the creative lighting means that the set is transformed with every change of scene. Speaking of, the structuring of the scenes makes you wonder just how much the show is actually improvised. There are definitely some overarching themes that seemed to be forced to the surface, a sort of dystopian despair and the presentation of a ‘horrific nightmare of a future’ – but maybe that’s just the nature of sci-fi. The cast promise a different show every night and encourage a second viewing if you can.
In the end, the show becomes an impressive recall exercise for Schutte and Mead, as they tie everything together neatly, remembering earlier improvised gaffs. Schutte and Mead bounce off of each other’s and the scenario’s randomness almost flawlessly, managing to develop complex characters that the audience are invested in, in just over an hour. While Thirteen Cycles might feel like it’s missing something, maybe a little more humour, it’s entertaining enough and is certainly a different way of doing theatre.
Thirteen Cycles is playing at the Rosemary Branch Theatre until 29 November 2018. For more information and tickets, click here.