Earlier this week I had two firsts. I visited The Stand Comedy Club on High Bridge Street in Newcastle for the first time since it opened last year. While I was there, I got to see Newcastle’s famous improvised comedy troupe, The Suggestibles (for the first time).
The Suggestibles have been entertaining Geordies since 2003, when founding members Bev Fox and Ian McLaughlin returned to their native North East and were asked to host a regular improv night at The Live Theatre. In the subsequent years since their inaugural show, they have delighted audiences across the region’s night spots with regular slots at The Bridge, The Cumberland Arms, Northern Stage and more recently, The Hyena and The Mixer in Jesmond. In February they took up residency at The Stand in Newcastle, one of a chain of UK comedy clubs regarded as some of the best comedy venues in the world.
Over the years, the group has had various members and they are always changing their line up as new faces join and old faces reappear. I was unaware, when I arrived at the Stand on Monday that I was at the comeback show of fans favourite Chris Price – a Suggestible since 2006 – but as of last year, touring with the critically acclaimed Batman Live stage show; playing super villain the Riddler, to packed audiences around the world.
The Suggestibles have a very simple formula for every show. With no script or a plan as to how the evening will unfold, they rely on audience suggestions for plots, characters, places and objects which they then skilfully turn into bizarrely hilarious comedy sketches.
Five players made up the line up at the Stand. Bev, Ian and Chris were joined by veteran Carl Kennedy and pianist Alex Ross, who provides an improvised musical accompaniment to the show. For an hour and a half (minus a brief interval) you are taken on a journey through what is essentially the audience’s weird imagination. This ranged from a heavy metal musical about a taxi journey to a holiday in North Korea where one Suggestible had to recall the hat contest she won in Kent, when Ann Widdecombe stuffed a pregnant Labrador into an empty sherbet fountain. There were a range of accents, voices and musical numbers too, featuring an old woman who lamented the fact that ‘everything’s gone south’ and Satan and his mysterious friend Craig.
It’s the player’s ability to switch from one idea to the next, seamlessly, that impresses the most. Although the audience feels as if they are in fact directing the group, you sense that an element of control is somehow being cleverly orchestrated. This level of understanding between the different personalities on stage can only have been achieved through working together for so many years. The ever polished performance, regardless of the line-up, has gained The Suggestibles a national and international reputation for brilliant improvised comedy.
Riding on the back of a 2008 TV Society Award for a You Tube hit video; The Suggestibles are slowly building a loyal online fanbase. A great website links to Facebook and Twitter where the show continues through regular status updates asking fans and followers to chip in with responses to various questions and scenarios.
At the start of the show you’re promised each performance is uniquely different and I’m curious to find out if this is true. If you’re into comedy or just looking for something a little bit different to do one night, I would suggest you join me at the next Suggestibles Show at the Cumberland Arms on 30th March. Forthcoming shows are also planned for April and May and you can see full details online at http://www.thesuggestibles.co.uk/.
*Image sourced from http://www.thepixelpalace.org/archive/2008/oo-heaven