Lola-Rose Maxwell on The Improvised Play

Audience members take the reins in The Improvised Play, a spontaneous comedy performed by two of the UK’s most sought-after improvisers, Lola-Rose Maxwell (Starstruck, The Now Show) and Charlie Kemp (Man Down, Austentatious). Crafted by the audience, the direction of the play’s narrative could be anything from a two-hander in a 1980s Texan oil rig, to a multiple-role side-splitting farce in a London brothel in the 1600s. No two shows are ever the same.  Following its debut at the Royal Court, it now arrives at Arcola Theatre, running from 5 March.

Maxwell took time out from preparations to tell us more about The Improvised Play – or at least as much as is possible about a play that is fully improvised.

Q&A with Lola-Rose Maxwell

What can you tell us about The Improvised Play?

Well, what I CAN tell you is we will ask the audience for the location, the decade, and the name of the play. From there the audience can relax and enjoy as we embrace those suggestions and use them to inspire a 60-70 minute play completely made up on the spot. We’ll delve into the characters we’re playing, finding their hopes, dreams, idiosyncrasies, and the way they see the world. We’ll have a lot of fun finding the dynamic of their relationship and building the world around them. 

What I CAN’T tell you, is who they’ll be, the story or even how many scenes it’ll be. It’s completely improvised, I cannot emphasise that enough.

Where did the inspiration for the format come from?

I was asked to perform an improv show for The Royal Court as part of their one-night stands program in December 2022. So I immediately asked my improv best mate Charlie to help me create something that would make the most of the Theatre’s stage and standing. We really wanted to do something that used our acting skills and had a bit more heart and depth than our usual improvised sketches – but not at the expense of the comedy.  From there The Improvised Play was born! We sold out the show and have been fine tuning it ever since, making sure to keep it exclusive to Theatres.

How did the performance at the Royal Court in 2022 play out?

It was amazing, we sold out! The audience suggested a cafe in Adelaide in the 1970s, so we did the whole thing in Australian accents. I remember Charlie’s character wanted to bring milky coffee to the world like ‘lattes’. We peppered the show with whatever we could remember from the 70s, Thatcher, The Clash, birth control, most of which turned out to be totally inaccurate much to the delight of the audience. I revealed at the end I had been somebody else the entire time, I can’t remember why now but it definitely made complete and total sense… Like any improvised show, you HAD to be there to fully appreciate it.

What is it like to be taking the show to the Arcola?

It’s honestly an immense privilege. We’re both huge fans of the theatre and we’re very grateful they’ve let us take on their main space. It’s also daunting, as you can probably tell it’s quite tricky to market a play that has no plot or themes yet. I think what we’re most excited about is bringing improvised comedy to a new  audience – we’re hoping  theatre fans’ interest will be piqued by the sheer risk of it all.

Is it daunting to think you will be going on stage with no clue as to what story you will be telling each night?

Haha, yes, I mean it’s literally what nightmares are made of isn’t it? What helps is Charlie and I trust each other completely, we know we’d never leave the other hanging. Improv is 100% collaboration; you cannot do it alone. And think of it this way, at least we don’t have any lines to learn!

The Improvised Play is at the Arcola Theatre from 5 to 9 March