Review: Open Mic (Rob Drummond, Soho online)

This was a curious show: announced as a semi-improvised production with audience participation, Open Mic is streamed live from the Soho Theatre’s Cabaret Space.

Drummond is there, live on stage, but the audience who are either performing or who paid for ‘the opportunity to interact’ appear on banks of Zoom screens at either side. As a performer does their piece, their screen is highlighted in large format.

In Thursday’s show there were six performers – four singers, a comic and a poet. After their act they are encouraged to chat, with some more communicative than others. Strangers can share the most profound things, and that is the case here.

Togetherness, loneliness, depression, isolation are all referenced in the chats between routines, touching on the weirdness in which we find ourselves, in our own little bubbles.

Publicity image for Open Mic

Of course some of the show has been written, assembled, even pre-curated, and that didn’t bother me at first. This felt like a genuine open mic night, with some performers coming across better than others.

A piece with a simple guitar accompaniment or acapella, or a carefully delivered poem, will always be better over Wi-fi than an attempt at humour with slides and spreadsheets, or songs with a distorted audio track.

Drummond starts to weave a personal story between the acts. “I miss standing in the pub, I’m not a sitter. I stand by my kitchen worktop with a beer, texting my friends to simulate a night out”.

Issues around solitary confinement (“the worst form of torture … we are a tactile species … we need to hug”, moves into lockdown rule-breaking and what small indiscretions the audience might have committed.

The limitation of computer screens obviously diminishes what would be a lively discussion with a non-virtual audience, but a sense of community is still achieved.

Screencap from Open Mic

At first this came across as thought-provoking and amusing, but I wanted a show which made me laugh, however blackly. By the last guest things turned deadly serious, and personally I felt a line was crossed in terms of manipulating the audience.

Many of us have lost friends, colleagues and family to the pandemic. Yes, Drummond’s show, directed by Richard Twyman, does take you on an unexpected journey, but it wasn’t the one I really needed over the 90 minutes we all spent together.

I should have known, reading back to the blurb: “what would you have done for a night like the ones you’ve missed out on?” And the answer is, like many other things in this world, “I don’t know”.

Open Mic has one more show tonight, 3 April 2021, and you can purchase tickets here.

LouReviews received complimentary access to review Open Mic.

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