The improvisation group Do Not Adjust Your Stage performed their latest show The Wunderkammer at one of the Natural History Museum late night openings.
The idea of The Wunderkammer is simple and appealing. You have two guest speakers that do a talk on their specific scientific profession, and the performers then do a improvisation using the talk as material to play with. The guest speakers were enlightening and fun. The first speaker was James Maclaine, the curator of fish for the Natural History Museum. His talk was unexpectedly on ‘underwater love’, speaking about things like how a fish can change sex, and how female seahorses woo. It was really funny and fascinating. The second speaker was Maggie Georgieva, a research student specialising in marine worms. She spoke about deep sea worms, how they are collected and the procedures they have to be aware of when collecting their samples. It was an interesting talk but far more fact-based then the previous and I did wonder how on the earth the group were going to pull improvisations from this quite intellectual talk. Nonetheless, they did and it was quite impressive how much material the group got out of the lectures. The talks were not mundane by any means and it was refreshing to be able to watch science and drama merge, but there was a point after the marine worms talk that I thought ‘what are they going to do with that!’. This is a group of talented improvisers. They never went for the over-the-top, crude or obvious choices like becoming a worm. Instead they picked up on each other’s storylines and expanded on them. It wasn’t an uncomfortable improvisation where they were desperate to make the audience laugh, but we did because of how cleverly they interlinked characters and catchphrases: for example, an admiral trying to win a war became a ‘madadmiral’, who became so mad he employed his own hype man. They worked seamlessly with each other and pulled each other into the improvisation with an elegant tag-team style strategy. You could see them work things out as they went along and they never rejected each other’s ideas; but at the same time the funniest moments were when they put each other on the spot, for instance with quips such as “how does your rap go again?” The whole evening was compared by Nick Oram. It’s a wonderfully strange evening to take part in, because some people are there to listen more to the talks and some people purely for the improvisation. Yet Oram did a great job of keeping the audience engaged and participatory. As the show goes on in front of you, you’re surrounded by aquatic life from molluscs to a giant squid. The environment they were working in really made the performance special, and to enhance the atmosphere live music was played for a musical score of the scenes. After hours at the Natural History Museum fitted perfectly with The Wunderkammer, and it was quite a unique and quirky experience. For anyone who has an appreciation of science and improvisation, I would recommend keeping an eye out for their next event. The Wunderkammer played at the Natural History Museum on 24 April, and are holding an improvisation workshop on Sunday 26 April. For more information and tickets see Do Not Adjust Your Stage website.