Everyone knows they are two of the best in the world, right? The improvisers’ improviser and the actor who can really improvise. They don’t take a suggestion, they swap characters, they talk about soup for an hour. They improvise a play and it’s a miracle. TJ and Dave is one of the shows that people speak of in whispered hushed tones when they come back from Chicago. It’s been running for a hundred years or something.
Last week they were at the Soho Theatre and pretty much every improviser in the UK made a pilgrimage, or two, or more to see them. My Facebook feed for the week was a combination of a live market for tickets and expressions of how great they were.
I went on Saturday night (I had seen them a few times before), and I can confirm, they are still great. The audience was filled with improvisers I know. Joe, Jennifer, Nathan, Roderick, Talal, James, Rhiannon, other James, Sarah, my Mum, Rosy. It felt a bit like a school trip. My friends Jamie and Julie were also down from Scotland for the weekend and had got tickets. They are not improv nuts and I was concerned. Would it turn out that the whole thing was the emperor’s new clothes and only improvisers like it? I was going to have to laugh extra loud to make sure they knew when it was funny.
There isn’t a lot of point in recounting what happened in an improv show, but here we go anyway. Two brother sit out on the stoop late at night discussing the sound of birds. Is that an Egret? One brother has recently come out, but, to the other brother and his wife, he still seems just the same. They eat Bundt cake. We meet the neighbors. She has a sugar problem and he forgets where he is sometimes. They discuss the sound of trains. Will one of the brothers sleep out on the porch? In the end he decides not to. Lights. The sensation that however much we as the audience remember what has happened (and we do), to the characters this is just a normal day, one they will be very unlikely to remember.
Great live performance of any kind, sports, music or the arts seems to interfere with the nature of time. It does not seem to be passing and yet, when you re-emerge into the light, you are surprised that it is finished. It was a blink of an eye, but also seemed lazy and indulgent and luxurious.
Jamie the doctor had, he said, enjoyed it, but had missed the sense of jeopardy from when he had seen before. The possibility of meaningful failure. They were so in control of what they were doing that it seems impossible they could ever slip up. It is technically impressive but not his kind of thing. Fair enough. Would he and Julie see it again? They exchange a look. She says yes, he’s not so sure.
After the show, as I run over my favourite moments again, mt brain circled back to one of my favourite questions. What is next for London? What do we need? How does London produce it’s Tj and Dave, it’s Dummy, 3peat and Baby Wants Candy? Not it’s copies of those shows, but its shows which are as distinct and interesting and accomplished as TJ and Dave. There are many answers to that question, but the one that popped into my head was this: weekly shows. TJ and Dave did not spring fully formed into existence. It took reps, and especially reps in front of an audience. Watching the show this time I loved what they did, and delighted in the subtlety and virtuosity. But it’s not actually a miracle. It’s technique, skill and focus. It’s knowing the person, the stage and what you are doing backwards, forwards and every whichwaywards. And that comes from doing it over and over and over. We’ll get there, and we are getting there. I am inspired not daunted, bring on the reps.