This weekend the Shoebox Theatre present their second annual FUSE Festival.  No, I’m not shouting for the benefit of the elderly.  Apparently “FUSE” meant is capitalised.  No, I don’t know why either, but I’m sure they have their reasons.

Here’s how it works: the FUSE Festival exists to present new performance ideas that are still in development.  The audience watch, discuss and, as a result, help usher the embryonic works on their way to becoming…  Something.  Maybe anything, but definitely something.  Maybe something marvellous.

Kicking off the Festival was “IMOGENÉ – The Improvised Pop Concert” by The Delight Collective.  Imogen Palmer is IMOGENÉ: Diva, iconoclast and pop princess.  Madonna on acid.  She’s promised Mark Ronson an new album but – due to various sundry distractions – she hasn’t had time to write it.  And so, by harvesting suggestions from the audience and with improvised musical support from Jack Orcozo Morrison, she has to ad lib the LP live on stage.

A good percentage of the joy of this show is Palmer’s complete immersion in the character of IMOGENÉ; shallow, ludicrous, arrogant, but utterly plausible and oddly engaging.  She’s never at rest, forever slinking, posing and contorting in-between dashing on and off stage for a series of costume changes.  During these brief absences Orcozo Morrison entertained with off-beat musical vignettes.

I might be wrong, but I don’t think I’ve seen the idea of an improvised comedic rock concert attempted before.  It’s an original conceit, but it would only take one of the off-the-cuff songs to fail for it to fall flat.  Fortunately the songs were strong, varied and – most importantly – funny throughout, cycling through a variety of genres and topics provided by the crowd.  It’s definitely the first time I’ve seen anyone singing a Euro-pop ballad about al fresco love-making in an Aldi car park.

I thoroughly enjoyed catching IMOGENÉ on the Swindon leg of her European tour.  Dynamic, unpredictable and hilarious.

Next was “Plunder” from Slackjaw Theatre Company, a two-hander starring Izzy Fitzgerald and Arran Fear.  There were far fewer laughs here, although it shared the previous work’s dynamism.   The piece is set in a dystopic near-future where knowledge can be bought and sold, downloaded literally straight into the brain, but at what cost?

After the glitz and glamour of IMOGENÉ all we have on stage are plain cardboard boxes, two hand-held lights and some fibre optic cables.  And yet with these resources, their bodies and some stark, but well-chosen sound effects the two performers manage to build a high-rise world of Blade Runner-like proportions.

And despite, or perhaps because of, the dark Cyberpunk stylings of the piece the show  manages to be a very human drama.  The scene where the two workers illicitly communicate through rhythmic drumming on the sides of their cardboard cubicles is particular affecting.

From what I understand what we saw last night wasn’t the finished article, as it stands Plunder runs very short, but for a work in progress it stands surprisingly well polished.  It’s an engrossing work, chilling at times, performed by two physical and nuanced actors.

I’ll definitely be interested to see the finished article.

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