Reviews of Playback performances

Despite being performed in a venue only yards away from the hustle and bustle of The Royal Mile, the creativity and tranquillity that ‘Playback Theatre’ oozed made it feel like an Eden a million miles away. This interesting and admirably innovating show saw the audience being invited to share stories, whatever the relevance or content, and the essence of each tale was spontaneously brought to life via the medium of a team of performers and their dramatic imaginations. The result was a thought provoking and moving performance, clearly achieving what it set out to do; the willing audience, no doubt encouraged by Artistic Director Tig Land’s kind and gentle persuasion, shared their feelings and thoughts without hesitation.

Miles Morgan for “Three Weeks” at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe

Random Acts leap over the fourth wall and smash the gap between performance and life. The Company carried out their roles with aplomb. Finding the humour without spite, throwing together a coherent narrative from mumbled suggestions and offering a kindly reflection of the audience‘s stories, they exhibited a confident professionalism and compassion. Playback is a brilliant tool for both experimental performance and a charming therapy, no doubt suited to challenging assumptions about drama‘s function and weaning hard-core cases from their theatre addiction.

Gareth Vile’s blog “The Skinny” at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe

You are very important to this unusual improv experience. The surprise pleasure is the audience re-cast as the writer, director and star of the show. After the first few stories, it’s clear that it’s genuine improv and this is your chance to use Playback to explore something about you, however trivial, tragic or ridiculous it seems. And it’s all because you matter.

Hazel Tsoi-Wiles for “Three Weeks” at the Brighton Fringe Festival

This interactive theatre experience could have gone either way, but I found it unique and intriguing. It’s a prime exposition of how the ordinary can become art and how no experience is unworthy of dramatic exploration, and seeing my narrative come to life through the bodies of others was an unexpectedly cathartic experience. Director Tig Land created a warm and relaxed environment in which the audience willingly shared and actors sensitively drew out the essence of each story. Simple but different, and perfect for the Fringe.

Louise Ridley for “Three Weeks” at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe

Random Acts Theatre Company create improvisational theatre of a calibre so high that it is almost shocking to witness. Thanks to judicious facilitation from Tig Land, it has all the best elements of the standard improv show with the ability to speak direct to its audience at a depth that most theatre can only aspire to.

The formula is quite simple. Members of the audience relate an event which has recently happened to them. Tig Land finds out a few more details and then directs her three actresses, Cherie, Jules and Helen (unsurprisingly this is all first-name level stuff) to recreate the story they have heard in a style of her choosing. To help ease it along, Richard Brock is on hand to provide a bit of musical accompaniment.

The beauty of the production is that this level of teasing out a story and the rapport which Tig creates with her audience means that the actresses can reflect much more than the simple facts they have been told. They are able to find an inner truth to the story that its original teller will recognise but which they have not vocalised, while the rest of the audience is happily chortling away at the surreal free-form result.

Thom Dibdin for “The Stage” at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe

The premise of this theatre production is an idea that verges on logistical absurdity, yet somehow the performers turn simple audience suggested stories into a unique and entertaining experience. The whole performance hangs heavily on what the audience is able to come up with on the day but the talent and ingenuity of the cast shines through whether the tale they’re faced with is bland or vibrant. Their re-enactments are always different from what you’d expect as they’re centred on feeling and emotion rather than just being a dull recreation of events. Make sure you have at least one fruitful story in your arsenal before you go, and then sit back and enjoy whatever random joy this fresh slice of theatre brings you.

Michael Wooldridge for “Three Weeks” at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Critics Choice

Very, very occasionally something will appear on the Fringe which is different from anything else you might have encountered and because of the wide diversity of the Fringe that is a rare occurrence, but it happened last night. In one of my favourite venues, and in one of my favourite performance spaces I was introduced to the Random Acts Theatre Company.

Here’s how the show works; the audience, who are treated gently and respectfully are asked by Tig Land to talk about an incident or a story they would like to share with the group. The cast: Helen Rogerson, Kirsty Dodds, Rachel Earnshaw supported by Richard Brock on a variety of musical and percussive instruments re-enact the scene improvising the situation and using just a handful of props. It’s fascinating to watch, almost voyeuristic (in a nice way) and judging by the company’s web site highly therapeutic.

This kind of theatre is so novel and different from anything else and also so enjoyable it deserves bigger audiences though I think the performance space they have chosen is perfect for their needs, there’s an intimacy I believe needed for this kind theatre and the room within which they perform has it. If you want to see novel, highly original and highly entertaining theatre this Fringe go and watch this show, I absolutely guarantee you will not be disappointed.

Gary Platt for “The Edinburgh Guide” at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe

The admirably fearless cast of Random Acts’ latest show has taken something as potentially bottom-clenchingly embarrassing as theatre improv, and turned it into something rather lovely and thought provoking.

Creating expressionistic pieces out of fresh air based entirely on suggestions, sensitively teased out by compère Tig Land, from members of the audience, is an intrinsically risky affair… the joy here is that occasionally the committed quartet of actresses, supported by the musician, manage to produce some nuggets of pure gold, such as a charming vignette based on a man’s story of taking a group of old age pensioners on a magical mystery tour to Whitby and the story of another man falling in love with his fire escape.

The audience is unsurprisingly reticent to begin with but are soon falling over themselves to join in… by the time the hour is up the whole room is abuzz with collective excitement and the warm feeling of having got to know far more about each other than anyone could have ever expected.

Chris Bartlett for “The Stage” at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe

An Evening of Playback Theatre

Nestled inside a quaint little theatre, a handful of strangers shared their week’s adventures through the synchronised improvisation of three talented performers. This style of theatre takes you back to the schoolyard, where drama has no inhibitions and art is real. Refreshingly, scenes unfold from simple real-life stories using only accessible theatre techniques. Spontaneous humour often emerged through the interaction between fast-thinking players and the audience’s escapades. Light-hearted and intimate, Playback provides a rarity of genuine theatre with genuine people. You won’t find any pretentious puzzles here, so, not for everyone, but I’ll certainly be back to play again.

Lara Nicholls for “The Latest 7” at the Brighton Fringe Festival

This is a fine piece of forum theatre and not the political voice-piece that drama students will recognise. Audience members share stories to the group and with each other that are then sensitively improvised by the company. By the end not a single person had not shared a story. Highlights include when Mary met her husband Jim – and hated him on sight – and the gentleman who spoke of his friend, missing following arrest in the Gaza Strip. The performers, including the percussionist and the lighting technician, are impressively intuitive and never seek to show off at the risk of devaluing another person’s story. A wonderfully different fringe experience.

Jane Buffham for “Three Weeks” at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Critics Choice

“PEOPLE often say it’s like Whose Line Is It Anyway?” says Tig Land, artistic director of London’s Random Acts theatre company. “But then we’re not trying to do something funny around the theme of toilet brushes. We’re dealing with real people’s real stories.”

With no scripts and no props, just a ‘conductor’, some ‘players’ and a courageous reliance on the audience’s willingness to become ‘tellers’, Playback is an international movement combining storytelling with live, interactive theatre.

Get over your fear of public speaking – and, perhaps more pressingly, your fear of the terms ‘spontaneous’ and ‘improvisation’ – and tonight Random Acts will treat you to a sort of This Is Your Life, playing back your tales using everything from movement and music to something called a ‘fluid sculpture’.

“Pure impro can be very hit and miss,” admits Land. “And of course the sort you see on telly has had all the dud bits edited out of it. But I would say 99 per cent of what we do is a hit. The whole thing is about human experience, so it will always mean something to everyone.”

Having sold out at this year’s Brighton Festival and its recent Edinburgh run, Random Acts certainly has much to shout about. But Land emphasises that Playback is “essentially community theatre”, not confined to the public stage.

It has honoured the experiences of Aids sufferers, provided East End street gangs with a mode of conflict resolution and helped a conference of Orange Mobile managers understand why their management skills were failing.

“That’s what’s so incredible about Playback,” says Land, “The versatility of it. It can reach people in a way that other theatre forms have never quite done for me.”

Bella Todd for “The Argus” at the Marlborough Theatre, Brighton

Freelance Journalist

Expecting to see the usual bunch of jean-clad, highly strung impro actors, I was pleasantly surprised to see a four-strong team of well turned out female performers; seated, alert and obviously keen to begin.

After a brief introduction from the company leader, the action started seamlessly and effortlessly almost without the audience realising. The mystery of what is Playback was soon revealed to the lesser informed in the audience, although these people seemed few and far between – it seems Playback attracts addicted followers like a rock band attracts groupies. And with hindsight, I call see why…

The audience tells stories, anecdotes or even simple words from their own lives to the conductor, who in turn hands over to the company to bring the words to life through improvisation. Although there was a potential for this audience participation to be awkward and jarred, the skilful conductor made the audience feel like they were chatting to an old friend over tea; thus creating a safe atmosphere, which therefore encouraged a delightful range of stories.

The actors worked together as though every moment of their day had been spent together, performing with imagination and energy. The obviously acute listening skills were apparent, which often created a sensitivity so touching it could bring you to tears, coupled with comedic moments to put the Comedy Store players to shame. A musician, with a range of instruments, offered a welcome accompaniment to the action, sometimes leading, sometimes following but never intruding.

I left the space feeling lifted and satisfied, although slightly kicking myself for not having offered my own story to the Random Acts players. Having signed up to the mailing list on the door and mentally added myself to tile list of dedicated followers, I know it is only time before I take the ‘Teller’s Chair’ myself…

Laura Jones

Six polo-shirted performers who look more like facilitators from a team-building seminar, greet the audience while a smiling conductor directs you to any empty front seats… the audience are given a dry run and then out of some seemingly ordinary anecdotes, the magic unfolds… allowing everyday lives to be orchestrated into funny, heroic theatre…

Hannah Latham for “The Insight” at the Marlborough Theatre, Brighton