The Maydays are an improvisational force who mastered their trade at the iO Theatre in Chicago and New York’s Upright Citizen’s Brigade. Happily Never After, a gleefully dark musical completely improvised from an audience member’s suggestion, allows the five-strong cast (plus pianist) to show exactly why they are among the best improvisers around.
In this particular show – and they are all different – the usually humble trade of dentistry was expanded upon in twisted and delirious ways, paying homage to the very best in Gothic storytelling. Indeed, they make no secret of the fact that they are celebrating and mimicking the work of Tim Burton and The Brothers Grimm among others. Tooth fairies as cackling witches who feed on the teeth of innocent children was a master stroke. The molar munching and murderous hags were the highlight of the show, along with the mistreated servant Basil who finally gets his revenge at the very end.
While the atmosphere and story is worthy of some of the great names in dark storytelling, some aspects don’t really add to this. Black and white stripes on every costume give an impression of prison fashion rather than goth attire, and compared to the promotional posters the cast don’t look especially pale or pasty or… well, dead. The pianist is also not dressed up at all – he should have gone all out and dressed up as a cross between Alice Cooper and the demon from Death Note. It’s not quite the explosion of impressive make-up and costume which you might expect from a performance like this.
However, Happily Never After will still incite a Cheshire cat smile in spite of this trifle. The cast take an obvious joy in playing a wide range of roles which, thanks to the improvised nature of the play, they can take in all manner of directions. Every character type – from frustrated mothers to evil witches and pompous widows – demonstrates the impressive versatility within the very small cast. They may be an upset little girl one minute, a witch the next, and an untalkative servant after that. It is testimony to their talent that each character remains on the fine line between absurdity and credulity. It is exactly what you want for a tale like this.
The way that the story is maintained and expanded, seemingly from nothing, is testimony to the experience of the performers. They are all expertly rehearsed in the act of not rehearsing. The story flows so naturally, with everything coming together cohesively whilst still making sense, that you would be forgiven for thinking that the script is tattooed on the inside of their eyes (if the suggestion on the night had been eye surgery, this may very well have happened).
It may all be made up on the spot, yet this is an incredibly polished performance from a seasoned set of performers. While the emphasis is on the light-hearted moments, there is nonetheless a foreboding undertone to the whole performance which succeeds in being like the work of the show’s inspiration. With a different stimulus every time to practically guarantee a different show to the day before, you can be guaranteed this – you’ll never leave…
Happily Never After
Just the Tonic at the Caves
Until the 13th August.
Photo credit: Alessio Carone