By Anna Hayes
A packed house at the Improv Conspiracy Theatre made for a raucous response to ‘Hunt for Ghosts’, the new offering from comedy duo Annie Lumsden and Lena Moon.
Not that they’re comedians or actors anymore. Oh no, don’t make that mistake – they’ve given up that gig and have taken a definite, if slightly fumbling, step into ghost hunting. I mean, if they can’t make it big with this sure thing, what’s left?
The show opens with pre-recorded clips of Lena showing a film crew around her haunted house, the former ‘Overtrope Hotel’, while the ‘ghost’ of the exercise, Annie (in backpacker guise), wanders around in white, seemingly only visible to ‘medium’ (or ‘small, but depends on the brand’) Lena – when this ruse is rattled, Lena is dismayed to find that ghosts don’t drink whiskey and eat bread, while Annie worries that she’s going to have to pay rent now.
It sets the scene nicely for the live action to come, the women’s first appearance punctuated with a song.
From there, we’re given a little insight into their ‘past life’ as performers and how difficult it was, as well as a host of other lamentations, particularly at Lena’s expense – her Twitch ‘fans’ are not nice people!
The show is a loosely scripted improv gig where certain points of the action are fixed but what the women say or do in those scenes is, well, it seems like it’s anybody’s guess, including their own! But, to my mind, it’s the best of both worlds – there’s a narrative structure (however loose) for both actors and audience to follow, and there’s the freedom for Annie and Lena to have fun with it, respond to audience reactions, run with a tangent, or just laugh at each other’s missed beats or punchlines.
The show brings the audience to the aforementioned ‘Overtrope Hotel’, a nod to ‘The Shining’ which Lena swears she’s never seen but continues to make surprisingly accurate references to for the rest of the show.
Once in situ, the women try to figure out the best way to ‘prove contact’ with the spirits in the building but, inevitably, fail to find a suitable one for a variety of reasons: video evidence is a bust because the appropriate camera angle means they won’t ‘look hot’ and that kinda defeats the purpose; a sketch book left out for the ghosts to communicate their thoughts and concerns results in the inertia of interpretation – Annie sees some impressive Rorschach style illustrations while Lena, perhaps exhibiting a certain pathology of her own, sees a sketchbook full of dicks!
Interspersed between the women’s discussions about how to find that definitive ghostly proof, we see a selection of other sketches that tie in with the main action.
A ghost self-help group shows that the inability to communicate doesn’t stop when you lose corporeality – if it did we’d have a lot more solved murders, as the group points out. There’s a biting sharpness to these exchanges, scathing lamentations about policing procedure and autism diagnoses that are given all the more impact by the fact that the theatre is a bare stone’s throw from Parliament.
Another sketch involves an “exorcist” checking out the most famous (read: murder) suite in the hotel and deciding to take a number of ‘cursed’ items out of the room – in a dramatic twist of fate, the only such items are the really expensive ones…
Inevitably, and as alluded to early in the show, the length of time spent at the location increases the women’s chances of being cursed and, sure enough, both women fall foul – while Annie gains “powers” similar to Roald Dahl’s ‘Matilda’, Lena ends up in a TV Poltergeist-style, although her platform is really more akin to U2 pushing their Songs of Innocence album on every iTunes user back in 2014.
The Improv Conspiracy Theatre is a tight space and there was standing room only on Easter Sunday night. The staging itself was pretty simple – a projector screen displayed the early camera recordings and, later, Lena’s new broadcast platform – it’s used sporadically but smartly, serving to add to the action, rather than distract. But, really, the glue of the show is Annie and Lena themselves.
The thing that struck me the most about watching them was how much they were clearly enjoying themselves, and that was quite infectious. Their personalities bounce off each other brilliantly and there’s a seamless quality to their interactions. Yes, they have a laugh when the other fluffs a punchline but it’s improv and sometimes those moments take on a comedic life of their own and surpass the impact of the original joke.
The big thing about it is how likeable they are, how grounded in reality so many of their fears are, all emphasised by a closing song that highlights a few of them. The ghosts of the piece are, perhaps, past dreams and future fears, present day challenges and concerns – all met with a dose of the absurd and, potentially, a very valuable “cursed” doll.
If you like your improv to be semi-structured and infectiously uplifting, there are eight more performances during MICF – you’d be a fool not to catch this quirky cracker.