Improbable Theatre´s Hanging Man


The Improbable Theatre company is still taking chances. The experimental troupe that hit it big a few years ago with its macabre adaptation of Shockheaded Peter, recently returned to UCLA's Freud Playhouse (from its British base) to mount its latest experiment in edgy improvised theatre, THE HANGING MAN.

Company co-founder Julian Crouch got the idea for the show right after he was sacked from a children's tv show. He joined his notion of an architect (a 21st century Everyman) who hangs himself inside his own unfinished Gothic cathedral with a vision of aged Commedia characters huddled around a fire as they contemplated their own death.

Death is a mighty big theme and Improbable Theatre attacks it in a bold way, with the Braff character hanging by the rope around his neck and arguing with Death himself, who is chuffed because Braff failed to check with him before deciding to off himself. The Commedia characters (played by Lisa Hammond, Nick Haverson, Richard Katz, Catherine Marmier, Rachel Spence, Ed Woodall and Tim Preece) become a cross-section of humanity (including a cantankerous dwarf) who not only sound off about Braff's death--some welcoming it, others protesting it--but talk about their own fears and visions of death.

Developed in trial and error rehearsal sessions with input from the entire company, THE HANGING MAN has moments of brilliance and originality, but is a disappointment overall. Design and stage effects are the company's long suit, not the spoken word. THE HANGING MAN looks and feels exciting, but its ideas and dialogue are, like so much improvised theatre, banal and largely uninteresting. The group should have brought in a playwright for a final polish.

THE HANGING MAN was presented by UCLA Live as part of its second annual International Theatre Festival. "There is so much extraordinary work out there--in the rest of the US and around the world," said UCLA;s Artistic Director David Sefton, "and very little of it was ever getting seen in Los Angeles. I saw this as a great opportunity to expose the people of this city to a genuinely wide and original range of theatrical expression. Everything in the Festival represents the work that most blew me away during my travels over the last year."

Upcoming Festival events include THE INSULTED AND INJURED, the Volksbuhne's adaptation of the Dostoevsky novel, directed by Frank Castorf (Dec. 17-19 at Freud Playhouse), and starring the great German actor Martin Wuttke, who dazzled local audiences when he starred in the Berliner Ensemble's production of Brecht's ARTURO UI at UCLA in 1999. The play is spoken in German with English supertitles.

WHITE TRASH WINS LOTTO, a "musical mockery in the making" by Andy Prieboy, follows Feb. 4-8, 2004. The cult musical began as an underground club attraction and is now edging into the mainstream. Prieboy (formerly the Wall of Voodoo vocalist) created, composed and narrates "this paean to sex, drugs and musical theater."

VICTORIA uBUNG is a Belgian play (in Flemish, with supertitles) that puts six children on stage who mimic the words and actions of adults at a dinner party depicted in a silent black and white film overhead as they "booze, lie, fight and ultimately break down." The director is Josse de Pauw. April 14-17, 2004.

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