Jan 31

Vertigo Theatre’s ‘Undercover’ is great spontaneous fun

by Jenna Shummoogum · 0 comments

Back in 2015, Rebecca Northan created Legend has it with Alberta Theatre Projects, a fantasy based spontaneous theatre production. Northan is back again with a new spontaneous theatre creation presented by Vertigo Theatre and is a world premiere production with Tarragon Theatre- Undercover. It’s an improvisational production where an audience member is chosen at random to be the rookie detective.

This play is different every night and highly dependent on the rookie. Northan and her team are supportive and create an environment that is conducive to humour, fun and spontaneous narrative. Undercover is playful and entertaining with just the right amount of depth. Murder has never been this amusing to witness.

The play opens to Detective Collins (Rebecca Northan) talking to her fellow policeman (Daniel Murphy) saying that they are bringing in a new detective for their first day on the job. Coming through the audience (the crowded waiting room) they select a lucky audience member Jeff Stephenson. While hinting that the play is about murder, Northan explains to Jeff the format and rules of the play:

  • Project your voice so all witnesses can hear.
  • Don’t step out of the light! Where the light ends, the world ends!
  • Call a time out and the cast will help and support where needed

The narrative then launches into Jeff getting his first assignment. He is going to an art auction, hosted by Peter Vinen (Bruce Horak) where he needs to gather information about Lia Da Costa (Christy Bruce). He will wear a wire (which is actually a microphone, so the audience can hear him). So off our rookie agent goes on his first assignment.

While at the auction, Jeff meets Daniel Murphy (Damien Atkins) and learns that he takes care of the house. Jeff is then introduced to all the other cast members in quick order – Georgie Vinen (Northan), Georgie’s cousin Brooke Pounsbury (Tarra Hazelton), and City Councillor Graeme Nelson (Dennis Cahill). Our rookie detective tries to listen in on private conversations, snoop when he can, and generally tries to wrap his head around the characters and their situations while drinking rum (in a hilarious solo moment, he tells the audience “its real rum!”).

Then a murder is committed, and Jeff has to figure out who did what and why. He leads the questioning and tries to fit the puzzle pieces together. I wouldn’t want to be in his shoes, but he handles his role with versatility and humour and the cast plays off him while remaining true to the narrative.

Set and lighting design by Glenn Davidson adds drama to the play, giving Jeff a little bit of assistance. The sets are flipped constantly to have different rooms in the house and the furniture is moved around by the cast, so that the set can match whatever scenario our rookie detective chooses. The lighting design sets the mood within the play, especially when thunder strikes and the murder is committed. When clues come up and information is revealed, Mike Rinaldi’s sound design gives the scene a dramatic flare.

Undercover is the kind of play that you could go and see again and again, just to see how it turns out with a new audience member as the rookie detective. Northan and her team work hard to play off of the rookie detective and each other and it works as they are super talented at picking up threads in the story while bringing charm and humour to the production.

It’s improvisational theatre that has a good depth of storytelling, while incorporating humour and talent into a well put together production. What more could you ask for?

Vertigo Theatre’s production of Undercover runs until February 11. More information is available online.


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