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Posted on Mon 20 Dec 2021
Described as utterly unique and spontaneous, Bumper Blyton The Improvised Adventure puts an adult spin on stories penned by one of the 20th century’s most famous children’s authors, Enid Blyton. Made up on the hoof and with no two shows the same, Bumper Blyton is garnering rave reviews wherever it lands. So we thought we’d check in with The Make ’Em Ups - the team behind this fun-filled parody - to find out more...
Tell us about The Make ’Em Ups...
We’re a little theatre company obsessed with making up funny stories on stage. At the moment we’re having lots of fun creating our own version of an Enid Blyton story.
In what ways do Enid’s stories lend themselves to improvisation?
The stories themselves are quite playful and contain archetypal characters that lend themselves perfectly to improvising a narrative. You often find in her stories that the children have a special interest or skill which proves useful in solving a mystery or conquering a school bully, or the adults are depicted as either potty or utterly useless, which makes for rich parody and is an awful lot of fun to play with on stage!
Talk us through some of the characters we might encounter in one of your shows...
Twisted versions of your favourites growing up. We’re creating a ‘new’ novel live on stage, so don’t expect to see Darrel Rivers, George Kirrin or Timmy, but in terms of the classic archetypes: shrinking violets who wouldn’t say boo to a goose? Check! Naive adventurers who keep falling down wells or getting trapped in a cave? Check! Snot-nosed poshos who look down on anyone not in the same class as them? Check! We’ve got ’em all!
What’s been the funniest suggestion from a member of the audience?
We ask our audiences to draw or write a nostalgic memory on mini chalkboards, so it’s always hilarious to see what people have managed to doodle before the show. Aside from the usual depictions of family holidays, our audience seem to like supplying us with a few subversive innuendos. One person’s nostalgic memory was ‘playing with my Dinky’. We learned that this was a type of toy car after the show!
And the most absurd suggestion you’ve ever been given?
They’re all a ridiculous and somewhat parochial mish-mash, which I entirely blame on the audience who come up with them! Some of our favourite recent titles have been: Model Railway Mysteries With Added Bears In Loch Lomond; Uncle Boris’ Bunga Bunga Party; and Pals Moist Adventure On Some Bloody Island. I also remember The (In)famous Five-Fingered Discount, which was a particularly fun ‘play on words’ from an audience member - though bearing in mind Enid Blyton had titles like The Mystery Of The Missing Cat - a thrilling read, no doubt! - I don’t think our titles are too preposterous!
If you had to put together a job spec for your line of work, what skills would be essential and desirable?
A love of story and a playful nature. And despite how it seems, you really don’t have to stress yourself out about being funny or clever to perform improv comedy. It’s all about listening really carefully and responding instinctively - tapping into what makes all of us naturally funny and interesting.
Is there a fellow improv act/troupe which has inspired The Make ’Em Ups more than any other?
My co-director, Amy, is a founder of the BBC Radio Four and West End hit, Austentatious, and we share members with Showstopper The Improvised Musical. Those shows are both trailblazers in terms of introducing narrative-style improv comedy to the country and inspiring other groups to create their own long-form formats. I also think there’s a huge appetite for something that’s nostalgic but a bit knowingly satirical.
Given that it boasts lashings of innuendo, would it be reasonable to assume Bumper Blyton is not a show for the faint-hearted?
It’s certainly not your granny’s Enid Blyton - but again, I blame anything that’s more blue than Noddy’s hat entirely on the audience and their input!
Why do you think improv shows such as yours are becoming more popular here in the UK?
Improv is really having its moment largely thanks to some groups having their shows championed in the West End, which means a more mainstream audience is able to experience the joys that an improvised performance can offer. Audiences feel included, as if they’re part of the action, and each show is a one-off, so there’s an excitement that comes with that. It also means that you can return again and again to see an entirely unique comedy performance.
Improv has been a mainstay of US comedy for decades now, with some of the world’s most popular characters starting life in improv skits, like the Ghostbusters or Anchorman. Entertainment seems to be more globalised now, for better or worse, but a benefit is that people have a wider understanding of what improv looks like than a hazy memory of Whose Line Is It Anyway? nearly 30 years ago.
Which other literary works do you think might be suitable for future shows?
It would be fantastic to play in the endlessly imaginative worlds of Roald Dahl, and there’s something inherently funny to me about trying to turn John Le Carré’s Tinker Tailor world into an improv show. It feels like a no-brainer to try a play on Phillip Pullman’s novels, perhaps called Whose Dark Materials Is It Anyway? We’re currently working on an all-ages show based on children’s Saturday morning TV and shows like Crackerjack and Blue Peter.
Finally, what do you think Ms Blyton would make of your use of her work?
Oh, I imagine she would hate us! We’re a bunch of soft, southern, lefty liberal comedians! - although she did write over 700 titles in her life, so I doubt she’d notice a few more. I think she resented the idea that there was ever any intended innuendo in her books, but we think there’s enough Dick and Fanny for everyone to share!
Bumper Blyton shows at The Place, Telford, Fri 28 January; Meole Brace Peace Memorial Hall, Shrewsbury, Sat 12 February; Chapel Lawn Village Hall, Clun, South Shropshire, Sat 12 March; Theatre Severn, Shrewsbury, Sun 27 March
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