OffWestEnd talks to Leo Maxwell, creator/director of the improvised satirical comedy Scandalgate, which is at The Rosemary Branch Theatre in Islington until December.

What is Scandalgate all about?

It’s a completely improvised comedy set in the world of media, business and politics but very much focusing on the sillier side of the headlines.

That’s a relief, because the news can be quite serious.

It can – but we would ideally like the hour you spend with us to be treated as escapism, away from all the real news. Our scandals so far have centred around issues like the Mayor of Wimbledon secretly writing erotic novels, a power crazed CEO of a peanut empire and the Liberal Democrats team building weekend. All incredibly far-fetched.

What can audiences expect from a Scandalgate show?
You would definitely recognise characters from The Thick of It and Succession. Our stories focus on the people who get caught up in news stories either by accident or because their egos put them there. The chancers, the well-meaning, the hangers on, the power-crazed and the underdog. They’re probably also the ones we all know from our workplaces in some form or another. So even if you’re not a news junkie, it will be relatable. It also starts with an immersive press conference, you even get your own lanyard!

How did the idea for Scandalgate come about?

I’ve been performing narrative improv for around five years with my other company The Descendants, and have become mildly obsessed with improvised storytelling, which allows audiences to properly care about the fate of a character one minute and howl with laughter the next. Then around two years ago I was watching the Hugh Grant political drama ‘A Very English Scandal’ and so ‘A Very Improvised Scandal’ popped into my head, which shows the extent to which my thought patterns are now so improv-adjacent. Following a fair degree of procrastination I pitched the idea to Hoopla Impro (London’s biggest improv school & theatre) and they very kindly allowed me to curate it and gave us a six-run show at their theatre in London Bridge in August. We sold-out nearly every performance and now we’re giddy with power.

Tell us more about the cast?

They’re the best, and I’m not just saying that because clauses in their contracts force me to say so when interviewed. They’re from a variety of different UK and US improv backgrounds (Hoopla, The Free Association, UCB, Second City) which I think gives each show so much depth. Some are more story focused and others are character driven; it’s a fantastically eclectic mix. They’re at the top of their game and it has been a delight to create this show with them.

What acts have inspired you?

The main one that comes to mind is Austentatious, the improvised Jane Austen themed show. Not only are they inspirational for how ridiculously good they are but they have put improv on a pedestal, going from Off West End/Fringe theatre to the West End and in doing so, showcasing the form to thousands of people who may never have an improvised comedy play.

Are there any famous improvisers you would cast for a one-off performance?

This is probably an improviser cliche but it has to be Amy Poehler. For selfish reasons, reading how improv had such an impact on her life in her book Yes Please was the reason I started taking improv classes. There is also a great clip of her Upright Citizen’s Brigade show AASSSSCAT which is so good it hurts. She’s got funny improv bones. Also Jack McBreyer from 30 Rock would be perfect for Scandalgate, provided his characters were all Kenneth the Page.

What’s next for Scandalgate?

Well now we’re all power crazed maniacs, we’ll never be satisfied and will likely become embroiled in our own Scandal, probably involving a VW campervan, a rigged toupee competition and a briefcase full of monopoly money. That or we’ll be at various Fringe festivals next year and hopping around our favourite London improv theatres. Follow us at @scandgateshow to see which it will be.

 

You can catch Scandalgate at The Rosemary Branch Theatre in Islington on Saturday 7th October, Saturday 21st October, Friday 17th November, Sunday 26th November, Friday 1st December and Friday 8th December. Tickets are £10.

 

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