If classic TV shows This Is Your Life and Whose Line Is It Anyway? had a lovechild, it would be Lifegame. Surprising, intimate, hilarious, poignant, it makes for a piece of theatre like no other.
One of the best things about being a theatre journalist is going to see a show you know virtually nothing about. In the case of Improbable’s Lifegame, the actors know virtually nothing about it either. Well, they are a step ahead of the audience in that they know they are going to improvise scenes from the life of a special guest, around whom the whole evening hangs; but, like us, they have no idea who that guest will be until he arrives on stage to greet the interviewer, ready to play the crucial role in the show of his life.
Each evening, therefore, is different, making this is a show you could return to night after night. It would be interesting to do so, to find out how reliant the format is on the personality of its guest. If the guest had no quirky stories to tell, would Lifegame fall on its face? Or is it testament to the skill of the interviewer that such stories are extracted from the visitor?
In the case of last night’s guest, the performers were in for a treat. A Jewish Canadian ‘voice actor’ whose dad was a ‘smallwares’ salesman who specialised in novelty mugs, the interviewee gave the improvisers plenty of amusing situations to enact. At times, his anecdotes were so funny that I wondered if they were genuine, and if the performers really didn’t know in advance that those stories were going to be told. But the expression on the guest’s face when he saw particular scenes enacted by the performers told you that the tales were true, and the reactions of the improvisers appeared entirely honest. Did it make the show flow more easily that the guest’s profession was acting? Again, you would have to see the show on a different night to find out.
The humour makes for an entertaining show, but the most surprising thing about Lifegame was the intimacy that was also extracted from the guest. Like a psychotherapy session in front of an audience, the visitor told us of his nerdy school days, his inability to fit in with the toughened locals of Winnipeg, his often absent father, the parental pressure not to become an actor, the loneliness of struggling to find love.
There is comedy in all these situations, but there is also pain and poignancy. What, on the surface, seemed a light-hearted improvisation show, reveals itself to be an illuminating exploration of life, with all its ups and downs. Not everyone will have a dad who wore a toupee aged 30, not everyone will marry the person they met in a lonely hearts column, but we all have equally hilarious and touching stories. As the guest says, you couldn’t make it up. That is the genius of Lifegame.