Sean Broadhurst is witness to a mushroom related murder in the improv county of Kazimier-shire in Episode 4 of The Happening.
When we arrived this week, the first thing we noticed was the absence of many of the Soap’s regular characters. The cast was half the size of what it has been throughout the run, and we had our doubts; how would this affect a character led performance that has had us in stitches for the last three weeks?
Having attended the rest of the run, there was no questioning the group’s ability to handle the unexpected — that’s literally what they do for a living — but would the night be faithful to what came before, or would it feel like a homage to itself?
Last week we left the gang on a sad note. Tempest Minefield (Jess O’Neill) finally made good on her threats to leave home, and at the beginning of episode four, we found Musty (Angie Waller) trying to cope without her daughter by focusing on her music. ‘Bothered?’ she said in her opening line; she clearly was.
After the introductions to the cast, now a staple of each episode, we found the characters being shown around Albert Hoffman’s (Trev Fleming) new vegetarian café where most of the action in episode four took place. However some of the characters were unhappy with his new business’ lack of options which didn’t include falafel, like Roger F’cough (Paul Robinson), who incessantly pestered Hoffman for a bacon butty, giving the scientist-turned-chef a great idea for a new menu. Remember that body, or rather the ‘human-shaped meat’ in the basement, yeah, it’s magically vanished along with 29 other bodies. You’ve seen Sweeney Todd, right? It’s a lucrative industry.
This week the story felt like it had more structure than it has previously, not something you’d necessarily expect from improv, but natural when five people instead of ten are dictating the direction of the narrative. It made for a refreshing variation in the night’s performance, and although at times it did feel different to the style we’d become accustomed to over the last three weeks, it wasn’t so different as to be jarring or unfaithful to what came before.
Put simply, episode four of The Happening was more rounded than previous instalments. It would have worked as a standalone piece, which is a testament to the group’s knack for storytelling rather than a criticism, and surely this will help next week when, presumably, more characters return and will need to pick up where episode four left off.
The diminished cast allowed us a closer look at Jo Caine (Charlotte Harrison), she’s one of the show’s villains, more likeable than the greedy councillors, but until Monday the character hadn’t had many chances to stand out. Episode four greatly developed her relationship with her newly recruited — via blackmail — drug dealer, Alan Furlenghetti (Alastair Clark) and their bickering over the legality of drug dealing resulted in some cracking lines. ‘Yes, drugs are illegal. But they’re not as illegal as sex-slaves.’ Not the best defence, Jo, but I guess that’s all you’ve really got.
Musicians Ed Feery and Rob Lewis who do an excellent job of enhancing the mood of each scene and play The Happening’s opening theme tune, got more involved than usual this week too. They interacted with the characters on several occasions even though they had no idea that it would happen!
It wasn’t just the musicians who had to get more involved with the action this week. Director Rosie Wilkinison took it upon herself to do the same and it produced one of the funniest scenes of the entire run. The piece began as usual with Rosie setting the scene: ‘The Kazimier-shire police are questioning everyone at the venue over the disappearance of Terry Pitman.’
The scene began and Rosie interrupted, perhaps she hadn’t made herself clear because the actors weren’t following her instructions; everybody was supposed to be playing the police and the artists, simultaneously.
‘I thought that’s what you meant, Rosie.’ said character Alan Furlenghetti, who was briefly playing the role of Impropriety’s Alastair Clark.
The scene continued and Rosie had to interrupt several more times because the actors weren’t playing the roles of absent cast members, as they clearly should have been, except for Alastair —Rosie knew he was listening carefully to her instructions at least. Eventually Rosie got the actors to perform the scene properly.
‘You’re supposed to be trained professionals,’ she said as the group stood in for absent characters, the police, themselves, their characters, each other’s characters, and Santa Claus – don’t ask, it was very chaotic.
Episode four ended with another murder. The group didn’t agree with Hoffman’s plan of covering up a murder with 29 more murders — even if the burgers were tasty. They all agreed, Hoffman was getting out of control. Trying to get away with murder by committing murder was like fighting fire with fire. What a terrible plan. There was only one thing the gang could do to avoid the attention of the Kazimier-shire police; to get away with murder, they needed to…murder Hoffman. The group secretly filled his pipe with deathcap mushrooms and when he smoked it the stage began fading to black.
Perhaps that’s not murder, they mused, he did willingly smoke the mushrooms. Apparently, there’s a loophole in mid-late-early sixties homicide law that doesn’t account for poisoning.
The penultimate episode of The Happening will be performed on Monday 16th October at 81 Renshaw St. Doors are at 19:30, performance begins at 20:00. Tickets £5 OTD