Theatre review: The Life Game is equal parts talk show and improvisational theatre

The Life Game is equal parts talk show and improvisational theatre. To be successful it needs its performers to be good at both; Sunday night we only got half a show.

Created by Keith Johnstone, who also created the improvisational Theatresports, The Life Game takes key moments in the life of an invited guest that are discovered during an interview and recreates them on-stage by a team of improvisers.  In Sunday night’s performance it was magician Lon Mandrake who found himself on stage talking about growing up as part of the famous Mandrake clan.  Through the interview, we learned that this eldest son to Leon and Velvet Mandrake, one of the most famous teams in the history of magic, was a reluctant magician, initially preferring the science classroom despite his family’s wishes.  Finally embracing his roots, Lon came into his own as a magician and mentalist in his forties.

As Mandrake revealed parts of his life the two directors Jeff Gladstone and Tom Jones (the cast rotates through the various roles from show to show), would stop the interview, perhaps delve a little deeper into what was happening and get the improvisers to create small vignettes based on what they had just found out.  As Mandrake watched the scene unfold he used a bell and a horn to indicate if the improvisers are getting things right or wrong.  With the horn indicating perhaps things are not quite right, the improvisers then looked to correct how the scene was progressing.  At times it did feel as if Mandrake felt a bit self-conscious in interrupting the scenes but when he did it helped to make some of the more interesting and humourous elements of the evening.

Unlike more traditional improv though, where it is mostly played for laughs, The Life Game runs from the very funny to the very serious.  On Sunday night, the cast of improvisers, led by David Milchard, Brian Anderson and Veena Sood, were for the most part successful along the entire emotional spectrum.

Members of the cast of the Truth Be Told Theatre presentation of The Life Game.  Photo by Melanie Kelly.
Members of the cast of the Truth Be Told Theatre presentation of The Life Game.  Photo by Melanie Kelly.

Somewhat less successful though on Sunday night was interviewer Tallulah Winkelman who seemed to struggle with the interview, despite what were obviously set questions designed to draw out certain life stories from Mandrake.  Even Mandrake found himself at times pulled away from the conversation with Winkelman, preferring to focus on Gladstone and Jones.  Fortunately the strength of the ensemble, led by the two directors, helped to overcome some of Winkelman’s weaker interview skills.

Surprisingly though it wasn’t the improvisational scenes where this particular show found its biggest strength; that came from the fascinating stories Mandrake told.  While the cast did manage some compelling scenes, perhaps the improv would have a bigger impact on a less colourfully rich life.  Sunday night though I could have spent more time just listening to Mandrake.  Of course, the magic trick was a welcome bonus.

3 Out of 5 Stars The Life Game

Created by Keith Johnstone.  A Truth Be Told Theatre presentation.  On stage at Studio 1398 on Granville Island.  The next and final performance of the season takes place June 24, 2012.  Visit http://www.thelifegamevancouver.com for tickets and information.

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