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Reflections on ‘The  Virginia Monologues’ by Alex McCafferty

 

Fair warning to readers: I have no education, qualification or experience to critically review the improv(isation) piece ‘The Virginia Monlogues’ with Nathalie Jacoby and Rhona Richards. So, I’m reflecting on why we (self, wife and 15 year-old daughter) went to see it, what reactions it provoked in us, and … oh, well, I guess I’ll just have to improvise.

Part One:

Living in the Luxembourg dream does sometimes feel derivative to me, and especially so when racking my brain for a spousal birthday present that goes beyond the two main expressions of this modern consumerist and materialist society: the latest fashionable restaurant and yet another piece of jewellery. ‘Something different, maybe a bit edgy’, I say to myself. Then somewhere I spy some blurb for a show called ‘The Virginia Monologues’.

First thought: perhaps a deliberate, conservative (read Catholic) misspelling of ‘The Vagina Monologues’ that opened Off Broadway I don’t know how many times and how long ago? How sneaky! How enticing! Second thought: no … conservative … they must have meant ‘The Virginal Monologues’, probably by nuns, and the whole idea was almost closed.

But it wasn’t a misspelling as a little more consideration revealed. Virginia = Virginia Woolf. The show was inspired by Virginia Woolf’s 1928 essay ‘A Room of One’s Own’ which I still haven’t read. And being a bloke, actually, I’m not likely to – how many blokes do you know who’ve voluntarily read Virginia Woolf?

Anyway, it all sounded a bit like women’s business which made it perfect for my woman’s birthday. I could endure, particularly if the venue served drinks.

Part Two:

‘There must have been a script. How could they have done that without a script?’

‘I don’t think there was a script. That’s the point of improv.’

‘How can anyone just make that stuff up, all those lines and characters? There must have been a script.

‘I don't think there was a script. That’s the point of improv.’

‘But there must have been a script, otherwise how could you make all those storylines come together so neatly at the end?’

‘I don’t think there was a script. That’s the point of improv.’

‘Those suggestions from the audience must have been pre-arranged. There was no time to prepare otherwise. There must have been a script.’

‘I don’t think there was a script. That’s the point of improv.’

‘What about the music? There must have been a score.’

‘I don’t think there was a score. That’s the point of improv.’

‘But how did they know when to finish? There must have been a script.’

‘I don’t think there was a script. That’s the point of improv.’

‘But how could they think of those twists and turns and keep us guessing where it would go next? There must have been a script.’

… You know the response.

[dialogue continues in this vein for another 15 minutes, at least]

And that really was the wonder of the performance: that two women on a stage with minimal props and some (dubious) suggestions from the audience could create, out of thin air and their imaginations, several well-formed characters and several fully-plotted stories with all the ups and downs of drama and some comedy to boot that kept an audience entertained and enthralled and satisfied right up till the end of the show. This improv is powerful stuff!

Part Three:

Just imagine if you could take some random suggestions thrown at you by an audience as to a sound (a ‘dubious’ fart, a wistful sigh, and the meditative omm), an historical period (Victorian), a building (a castle), and clothing (shoes) and make something of it. Why, that would be like taking the random events that life throws at you and making something of it!

How did Nathalie and Rhona do that for us? How could we do it for ourselves? I’m not sure but I’m guessing by following some principles/guidelines (as opposed to rigid rules) and, no doubt, practice.

As a start, Wikepedia lists some ten principles of improv and here are a few I thought Nathalie and Rhona did really well:

Listen – they listened to the audience, and to each other, even when it seemed to me to be hard. I mean, a fart, really?;

Agreement – they said yes and added something so the whole show somehow moved forward bringing all of us with it, even without knowing in the middle where it would end up. There’s a bit of trust in doing that;

Team work – each of them seemed to know just the right time when to come in and ‘relieve’ the other, without running over or blocking the other. Nor did they leave each other stranded, and yet nothing seemed strained;

Be in Character – with each of the story lines popping in and out, it wasn’t hard for the audience to recognise the what’s and the where’s even without props because each of the characters were instantly recognisable;

Make Active Choices – they were always doing something, moving, acting.

By the way, in the nature of improv, if you missed the show, YOU MISSED IT. Keep an eye out for your next chance to see Nathalie and Rhona ‘improv-ing’, then do yourself a favour and go.

 

Thanks to Alex McCafferty for writing this review, If you have seen some Anglophone Theatre  recently and would like to share your thoughts please forward them to  julie(at)nwtc(dot)lu.

 

New World Theatre Club Luxembourg