Monday 7 June 2010


Recently Canadian improv duo Crumbs were in town as part of their annual European tour. Their show is a two-man, two-story longform which morphs between the stories in often ingenious ways.

The first half of the show was them playing together with some local improvisers. It's a great experience for these players but is more a perk for the organisers than what the audience really is there to see. However, if I was an organiser, I'd almost certainly be doing exactly the same. And although it feels a little like a diluted version of what's to come, this is very much the support band concept: warming the audience up with a less accomplished but similar group.

Crumbs themselves play clear, slightly exaggerated characters. They take their time to build the tension, play the emotional truth of situations and be affected by what is going on. They keep things simple in terms of exploring what they have rather than inventing more and more, but are ready to move the story on to the next beat, location and strand when it needs it. They also seem naturally or deliberately (or both) to use genres to underpin their stories. In the show I saw, a story about a dentist was done in a noirish cop thriller style and the story of a man whose day spiralled out of control just because he needed to make a phone call was a kind of black comedy that ended with some nice poignancy. I suspect a lot of their stories end with poignancy, as they do seem to play characters with depth and inner needs and don't feel the need to have 100% happy, everything's fixed, "Hollywood" endings.

The stories alternate from one to the other and there were some great morphs, in particular from spinning, blurry man making incoherent sounds as seen by a man undergoing concussion to man in dentist chair making incoherent sounds.

Because they keep it simple, and take their time to explore all the ideas that come up, they effortlessly tie up stories at the end and allow us to really see inside their characters. That's not to say the stories are simplistic or obvious; it's that because they take their time we always know where they are in terms of the story and even when there is a big jump in time, location, etc, it is clear or made clear why we went there.

They also know what the important things that have been set up are; and what are those character traits or character habits that can show a real inner change or fully reflect the external changes that have occurred. Such as when the very professional dentist's assistant finally gets to drop calling the very professional dentist "Doctor" and call him "Josh."

Ironically, counter to conventional improv wisdom, the show ended on a piece of new information. The name Josh had never been mentioned (I'm almost certain); the dentist had always been "doc" or "doctor." But it was the perfect out for the show. And it wasn't really new information. We knew the Doctor must have a name (common knowledge) and that the assistant wanted to have non-professional relationship with him, so all that was new was the specific detail of what that name actually was. And what capped it all was that it was just a regular name (for North Americans, at least). No stupid joke name to try for that extra laugh that would actually have undermined the emotion and feeling of resolution of the moment. This, as much as anything else they did that night, showed real class.

Crumbs continue their European tour in Germany. See:

1 comment:

  1. Spot on review, Peter.
    It was a terrific performance. I was impressed with this in particular: that just two players, both onstage the whole of the time, could stay so focused for 70-odd minutes; and that they could leave a story at any point, come back to it later on, and develop it further, having remembered every single word, body language, and event that had been part of that story up to that point. Taking your time, keeping it simple, staying focused, acknowledging everything, and forgetting nothing: all basic improv skills, I know, and it just goes to show how few improv actors really have them!