The Improvised Play

There is a reason why Lola-Rose Maxwell and Charlie Kemp are considered masters of improvisation.

It is one thing to be funny, and another to be able to tell a story. Maxwell and Kemp do both, while making everything up on the spot. To top it all off, they make the whole affair seem incredibly easy. And then, they begin from scratch all over again for an entirely new audience.

Maxwell and Kemp come onstage with heroic music, almost like a gladiator's entrance, and get straight into it. They ask only three things of the audience: a time period, a location, and the title of the play. For this evening, the audience decides on a play titled When In Rome, that takes place at the Coliseum (which Kemp cannot spell) in the 1970s. These three points are written and hung on the side for the audience's reference, and the actors leap into action.

For anyone who has ever tried their hand at improvisation, it is anything but. (Cue Michael Scott in The Office bringing guns into a scene at every opportunity.) Going by the three aforementioned guiding points alone, Maxwell and Kemp come up with a play about two strangers, Arnold (Kemp) and Falulah (Maxwell) who meet while hitchhiking in Rome, and end up starting a business together.  Although the stage is set with a load of furniture, items and outfits for them to use, which makes it funnier when they mime cigarettes and bags. 

It is amazing what the power of "yes, and" can create. Kemp and Maxwell are bouncing off one another, building their character's identities as they go. Some of it is outrageous; Falulah is apparently the runaway daughter of the UK's first pirate duke-lord-prime minister, escaping an abusive family. In a later scene, Kemp wears a jacket made of cobwebs. 

The Improvised Play is enjoyable not only because of how charismatic the duo are, but also because the entire affair is incredibly wholesome. There is no sexual innuendo, no offensive humour, no low blows. This is quite the achievement considering how many stand-up comedians nowadays bemoan the fact they are "censored" by woke culture. The Improvised Play proves that entertainers can be funny without throwing anyone under the bus. Adding on to the fact that there is no slapstick (not that having it would lessen the quality of the experience given how it is a quintessential British comedy staple), Kemp and Maxwell have surely created a comedy show that stands out from other ongoing acts currently happening in London.

The only way The Improvised Play would be even more outrageous and impressive, is if the actors had found a way to incorporate every single thing in plain sight on set, including the various dresses and jackets hanging on the walls. 

However, to be absolutely clear, Maxwell and Kemp are engaging improvisers, leaving the audience hanging on to their every word, no matter how silly or incongruent. The Improvised Play promises great entertainment, with Kemp bringing everything full circle by concluding the evening with his final words, "when in Rome".

This show was reviewed on the 5th March 2024 at the Arcola Theatre, London where it runs until the 9th March 2024.  Tickets available here: The Improvised Play - Arcola Theatre

Review written by Vic Chen


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