Improvised comedy can be tricky to review because of the obvious: it is completely different every night. Some performances might blow audiences away, while others could fall very flat.
Having said that, I don’t think the latter could ever be true for Rebecca De Unamuno. This improviser is one talented individual. Her quick wit, candid enthusiasm, and ability to accurately read the audience (and what they might or might not find amusing) is exceptional, and her stage presence solid and enthralling.
The concept of Is Open to Suggestion is basic, but superbly effective. At the very beginning of the show, De Unamuno asks the audience to provide four suggestions: a music genre, a city, a number, and an event. She then conjures three random characters using these suggestions, and creates their separate stories over the course of fifty or so minutes. And if that isn’t impressive enough, she then manages to find ways to cleverly intertwine their tales, all without taking any time to stop and think about what she is going to do next.
De Unamuno has been improvising for quite some time, having previously appeared in several sketch-based television shows and Australian comedy series, and her experience certainly stands out. She is naturally funny and charismatic, and her dramatic style is very much conversational, which makes it less of a performance and more of an interaction. During the particular show that I attended, De Unamuno portrayed a reggae musician, an 86-year-old woman reminiscing about her love life, and a scarily familiar hipster Melbournian; all unique, and all very entertaining. Her detailed descriptions could be mistaken for being scripted, which is a sure sign of her talents. Witty one-liners and spot-on stereotypes are hilariously executed, and she even managed to include a touching scene in which her elderly character speaks fondly about her dead husband. Each scene is separated by the ring of a bell and a short blackout; an efficient way to break up each monologue, and one that must certainly keep the lighting technician attentive throughout the show.
There were several moments in which the performance lost its momentum, as De Unamuno attempted to elaborate on developed stories and find a way to conclude them. The characters did not intertwine comfortably, and so it seemed as though she struggled a little to think up a slick and memorable way to end the show. Despite this, some of the messier scenes were the most enjoyable, especially the moments when she regretted some of the crude (but funny) phrases that escaped from her mouth.
This light-hearted, fun-filled improvised performance is not your average comedy show. De Unamuno has a wonderful imagination and some remarkable acting abilities, and has one of the few shows that you could see every single night of the festival and still be equally as engaged. Make sure you see it, even if only once.
Rebecca De Unamuno Is Open to Suggestion is on at the Victoria Hotel until April 19.