‘People love it when we’re caught rotten!’
Saying ‘yes' is the key to good improvised comedy according to Leeside stage legend Laura O’Mahony, and she should know – she’s been winging it for over a decade.
This December, the hugely popular and strictly over 18s Improv Panto will make its highly anticipated return to Cork Opera House where the gang will put on a string of unpredictable after hours shows in the lead up to Christmas.
As rehearsals (yes, they do rehearse, and we’ll get to that later) got underway for this year’s show, Laura took time out to chat with the Cork Independent about how a show like this even works and why it works so well.
“I don't know, I've been doing it for over 10 years now and there's no kind of magic trick or magic answer,” says Laura.
“I suppose I'd probably say that accepting - saying yes - is pretty much rule number 1 in improv. It keeps the portals open for further conversation and obviously the bit of humour that comes out of it.
“If you ask me a question, like, 'would you like to go for a walk?', then something happens on the walk and then the story continues – if I say no, then that's that dead.
“A lot of the humour comes from the fact that I mightn't be prepared for what my colleague is going to say and I'm caught out. People love it so much when we're caught rotten.”
They way the show works is, all audience members are given a slip of paper upon which they can write a line to be read by a cast member. If the line is deemed somewhat appropriate, the cast must then roll with whatever comes their way.
“That can often take you in very weird and wonderful and dark directions,” laughs Laura.
“One of the previous shows we did, ‘Goldie Locks’, we ended up massacring all the 3 bears at the end, so we didn't see that coming, but it was absolutely hilarious.
“There's never a show that isn't pretty weird, but weird in a good way. Sometimes you can be heading along a kind of normal plot, like Jasmin’s falling in love with Aladdin, but then all of a sudden, Aladdin might be like, 'Do you know what Jasmine, I am better than you and I don't need to live up to your high expectations anymore,' and he heads off with Gill from Tesco instead! There are no rules.”
When it comes to preparation for a show like this, Laura says the number one question she and her colleagues are always asked is: “Why are you rehearsing when you're making it up?”
“It's always a question but the reality is, we can't just rock up cold and just throw on a show,” Laura explains.
“We have to work together and a big part of it is knowing and trusting who you're working with. Knowing that, oh God, if I get stuck now, if I run out of things to say, that Dominic or Laura or Declan will jump in and save you, because rescuing each other is a big part of it too.
“We rehearse to just gel with the group and have a laugh together. We're grown adults playing basically, which a lot of us forget to do as we get older have mortgages and we settle down and become responsible and we forget to have a bit of craic.
“Generally, it's just a load of messing and having a laugh, and very often it’s about getting inappropriate jokes out of the way that we know we can't say in public.”
Having come to her senses and moved to Cork more than 2 decades ago, Clare native Laura says one of the best ways to entertain a Cork audience is to talk about – Cork.
“I think the main thing is just how much Cork people love Cork and I think that's no great secret, so usually in the show we set it in some local Cork area and we think of as many local references as we can.
“They love it, they lap it up, you know? They love when a specific Centra is mentioned in Watergrasshill or a GAA pitch in Kanturk, they just go nuts for the references.”
The Cork Improv Panto stars Dominic MacHale, the people’s princess Laura O’Mahony, Cornelius Patrick O’Sullivan, and the very “bould” Laura Harte.
The Improv Panto returns to Cork Opera House on 9, 10, 16, 17, 21, 22, 23, December at 10.30pm each night. Tickets cost €22.50 for an adult, €20 for students and OAPs. For more information and booking, visit corkoperahouse.ie.