Friday, October 16, 2009

Hard-Hearted Hannah

Old Vic, Bristol


Opening the Bristol Jam Festival 2009
 (runs until 17th October)

It’s the perfect opening; “We have a show. All we need is a title.” As the audience of Hard Hearted Hannah entered the Studio of the Old Vic, it appeared to be not so much a theatre as a cross between a karaoke bar and a gypsy caravan. The Cartoon de Salva company (a team of just six people including three actors) were perched on rustic stools happily brandishing guitars, harmonicas, velvet back-curtain and a blackboard on an easel. On this blackboard they wrote out the scrath agenda of the evening’s entertainment. Their out-of-the-blue set-up became the theme for the opening night of the Bristol Jam that has taken over the theatr e for the next fortnight. The Jam’s opening cross-genre theatre performance fused juke-box music, comedy and improve theatre into an appropriately sticky, home-baked mix of delightful flavour that took a long time to wear thin.

In fact, it would be lying to quote Hard Hearted Hannah as the title of the performance. The impromptu theme meant that we were asked to the overall title ourselves. The cast chose ’The Black Toe’ from some brave and appropriately audacious audience suggestions, and then allowed us to select, pantomime-style, three songs including ‘You Sexy Thing’ to become the backbones of the performance. This became a story like no other. The jokes were occasionally too ‘in’ for comfort and the plot dragged painfully as the evening drew to a close, but that was because Alex Murdoch, Brian Logan and Neil Haigh are such a close unit that they don’t need to perform to the audience; they perform to one another in a perfect balance of pithy wit and highly skilled acting. The men of many voices and their equally talented female co-performer spun an improvised plot which made for little logic but plenty of laughs. At the end of a tale of falcons, stocks and split personalities, we weren’t sure what had happened, but knew it had happened in a manner worthy of Dead Ringers. This evening was completely improvised and relied on its actors not to let their guard down, or their originality slip. Luckily the ten years of the Cartoon de Salva company have produced a team who can pull off anything. They could do with a little less hesitation and more sympathy for a clueless audience, but this aside it hit the spot perfectly to begin the Bristol Jam in true disorganized style.

Meanwhile in the foyer waiters bore not drinks but ‘Improvisation’ orders upon cards and several boards awaited daubing by any willing visiting wannabe-artists…. Disorientating, highly bohemian and multi-coloured were just some of infinite possible adjectives applicable to Hard Hearted Hannah. One of the Telegraph’s Top 10 Comedy Gigs of 2008, this was a show worth seeing and impossible to replicate.