Hivemind are one of the most highly rated improv groups in the country, with London Theatre 1 describing them in a five star review as “Quick-witted, likeable, and extremely good at what they do”, in a piece which also said “Their split-second reflexes and feats of mental elasticity were awe-inspiring”. They’re currently performing two shows, Improvengers: Pretendgame and Lord Of The Game Of The Ring Of Thrones, and in this interview members Jack Lawrence, Harriet Cartledge and Adi George tell us about the challenges of performing improv, why they chose the superhero and fantasy genres to base their comedy on, the best shows they’ve created, and how they would have ended Game Of Thrones.
Comedy To Watch: How would you sell your comedy to anyone who wasn’t aware of your work?
Adi: With extreme difficulty! Every show we perform is completely made up on the spot, so each night is totally unique and special. Whether it’s our fantasy-inspired style (think Game of Thrones meets Lord of the Rings) or our superhero-themed spectacle (think Marvel meets DC), we improvise hour-long stories which are completely original while also paying homage to the styles which inspire us. Our brand of comedy stems from our utter joy in sharing a stage together, whether we’re playing warring monarchs or mad scientists…or anything in between!
Harriet: In terms of the kind of laughs you can expect, it’s just lots and lots of fun, shot through with pure silliness. We’re not political, we’re not trying to make a point – we’re just here to give everyone a good time.
CTW: And how did Hivemind come together originally?
Adi: The four founding members met at Cambridge University, at the uni’s improv troupe, the Impronauts. Not content to go their separate ways after graduating, they all found their way to London and picked up right where they left off!
Jack: Alex and I discussed throwing together a London group during the Impronauts Edinburgh Fringe run in 2016. The group was born in September 2016 – it’s entire first rehearsal and show are all documented on the Hivemind Log videos on our YouTube channel.
Adi: Since then, the group has taken on a few new members – we’re now up to a rotating cast of 8 performers.
CTW: What do you find are the main challenges of performing improv?
Adi: I think managing audience’s expectations is a big part of it, and making sure they actually know they’re watching something that’s being made up on the spot. Sometimes audience members come in expecting a scripted show – we once had a reviewer criticise us for “not knowing our lines”!
Jack: For me, the challenge is constantly finding a balance between enjoying the performance and never being satisfied with the quality of our craft – always wanting to refine and improve.
Harriet: When you’re making things up without a script, you’re so much more aware of the possible directions the story could have gone in, but of course you can’t have all of those options at once. After most shows, we’ll be chatting and say things like, ‘I really didn’t think you were going to stab the king,’ or ‘I wish we’d seen more of those goofy minions to the Salad Villain playing around on the Media Computer’.
CTW: And what do you most love about doing it?
Adi: Messing around with each other! We could sit around a table for hours, just enjoying each other’s company and building off each other’s energy. When we perform, we get to do exactly that. Add to that the live musical accompaniment and lighting, and you have an extremely joyful celebration of human collaboration…that happens to be packaged up in a superhero or fantasy-themed story.
Jack: Spending time with good friends in a creative space full of laughter. It’s the best.
Harriet: I also love seeing what comes out of someone else’s head. Some of the audience
suggestions we get are truly excellent – a series of mirrors that lead to alternate realms? Yes please. And some are just funny – one of my favourite superhero suggestions was Start-Up Man, who disables people by endlessly pitching them his start-up.
CTW: Why did you choose both superheroes and fantasy films to do improv around?
Adi: We love those genres! Like most people, we grew up with the Marvel Cinematic
Universe, Game of Thrones, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter and so on. Those types of stories are so rich and vibrant, while also being relatable on some levels – so as improvisers they enable us to inhabit worlds that are completely different to real life, while also telling grounded, character-driven stories that aren’t so… far from home (pun intended).
Jack: We’re extremely passionate about the source material, and that lends itself to a rich
imagination full of ideas for parody and new stories – ideal mental landscapes for doing improv!
Harriet: They’re also just fundamentally silly genres. Marvel seems to have cottoned on to this, but the Game of Thrones/Lord of the Rings worlds are silly too, even if everyone seems to perform with a broadly straight face. Why do palaces need so many guards and footmen?Why would a wizard live in a really, really, ridiculously tall tower (looking at you Saruman)? Why are there eagles, or dragons, or frozen zombie things!!??? These are questions we need to know the answers too, and these shows will get us those answers (sort of).
What’s your favourite improvised show that you’ve performed, and what happened in it?
Adi: This one varies depending on who you ask! The first superhero show we performed in London springs to mind – it featured a protagonist, Greg, who could conjure and subsequently manipulate eggs at will. He went up against an evil CEO who had super speed. Somehow, he won.
Harriet: There was a show in Edinburgh where another Hiveminder, Ellie, had to play a superhero called Punderwoman. In real life, Ellie is basically the queen of puns, and it was just marvellous to behold this perfect union of improviser and audience suggestion.
As fantasy fans, how would you have ended Game Of Thrones?
Adi: In more than just six episodes! Personally, I’m in favour of an ending along the lines of: at the Battle of Winterfell, the Night King and his army win, forcing Jon and Dany to retreat to King’s Landing with depleted forces. The dead slowly march South as Jon and Dany engage Cersei’s forces, staying in the fight with the help of the dragons. Eventually, Arya kills Cersei, completing her list, and Jon kills the Night King, fulfilling his role as the Prince who was Promised. And for once in their whole history, the Seven Kingdoms are ruled by a just woman and an honourable man – Daenerys Targaryen and Jon Snow.
Jack: Jon Snow for King.
CTW: Apart from the genres mentioned above, is there any other subject and / or fictional character you’d like to do a show about?
Adi: So many! At uni, a few of us did an improvised romantic comedy, which would be fun to bring to London. We’ve also been throwing around the idea of an improvised Greek tragedy, so as you can see, our interests are pretty eclectic.
Jack: I’ve always wanted to do a political thriller/election race. Sadly it has become apparent that reality is far stranger than fiction could ever be in that regard. We wanted to do a sci-fi show for a while, and still one day may do it. Stay tuned.
CTW: What’s the funniest thing that’s happened to you since you started performing?
Adi: I don’t know about funniest, but at our show last week there were three small children in the front row who had no issues with speaking up at any point in the story. It became a game between us and them – every time they said something, of course our characters had to say that exact line. They were like mini directors.
Harriet: Also with children, we had an Edinburgh show were a toddler escaped from their parents and crawled all the way down the aisle onto the stage (for the purpose of the scene, they became a terrifying monster). More generally, there are definitely moments where you’re on stage, playing an enchanted carrot or whatever, and you just have to be like, I’m an adult. What am I doing.
CTW: Apart from improv is there anything else you’d like to do comedy-wise?
Adi: A few of us have dabbled in stand-up, so I’m sure those interests still exist somewhere in the troupe. But ultimately, for me nothing quite compares to the magic of spontaneity, and you can only get that from improvised comedy.
Harriet: We’re actually in the process of making an improvised Archers spoof podcast, which was so much fun to record, and even more fun to edit (basically, a lot of gratuitous mooing). The nice thing about improv is you can make the content first and clean it up later, so I think we’ll probably keep making stuff like that. The other great thing about improv is that it’s excellent for ideas generation. Scenes we do in rehearsal often contain brilliant ideas for sketches, so I’m keen to pester everyone in something scripted like that.
CTW: If money were no object, what would you like to create?
Jack: A big West End improvised adventure story!
Adi: The coolest improv theatre ever, with a whole band improvising the soundtrack and an entire team of technicians building sets on the fly for each scene. The stage would have a revolve, and staircases which can be moved at any time – all the trimmings of high-budget, West End theatre, with the magic of improvisation.
CTW: And finally, if you could interview yourself, what question would you most like to ask? And what would the answer be?
Harriet: Maybe, isn’t improv just making stuff up? And the answer would be – it’s less like rehearsing a play and more like practising a sport. You do drills, and techniques, and then you go and play and just take what comes at you.
Adi: I think the question would have to be, “Did it really work? Were my calculations correct? Have I truly managed to split my consciousness into two vessels, two bodies, two different human beings capable of interaction, of curiosity, of conversation?”, and my answer would be “You have. But at what cost?”