There's more to improvisation than standing up and impersonating something strange a la `Whose Line is it Anyway?' Good improvisers construct a narrative, and best of all, they can teach you how to do it, too

Whose Line Is It Anyway? has given improvisation a bad name. According to David Bourn, a member of the hard-core improvisational troupe, London Theatresports, "true impro is all about narrative skills and building a story. Whose Line Is It Anyway? is more like party games and you can only take that for so long."

Very much a purist, Bourn reckons that pub impro has also sullied the art's reputation. "In a pub, if you ask audiences to suggest jobs, they always shout out `prostitute'. You don't get that in the theatre. When people aren't drunk, they don't tolerate a lot of smut."

More and more people, he claims, are getting the impro bug. London Theatresports now runs regular workshops - pitched at three different levels of expertise - for would-be improvisers. They are also hosting a masterclass in "long- form impro" led by Bob Kulhan from Chicago's Second City, the celebrated impro club that spawned the likes of Hollywood star Bill Murray and George Wendt, who plays Norm in Cheers.

Bourn tries to account for the sudden popularity of impro. "A lot of people treat it like a night-class or a social thing," he says. "But it could also be like therapy. It's not often that you get a chance to try in ordinary life the things you can do in impro. Obviously, people don't work out their marital problems on stage, but one of the things I like about impro is that you know at some point you're going to fail. The audience don't mind, as long as you've tried your best - and I find that therapeutic.

"Also, not having to say other people's lines is a bonus," he continues. "There's no limit to the emotions you can play. You get free rein to do what you want. If you've got a creative bent, then it's better than being in a play. You're creating your own new show every week. I've probably covered more emotions in a Theatresports Shakespeare than you can in a real one."

For their part, audiences love the surprise element of impro. "What makes it more interesting than stand-up is that you never know what's going to happen," Bourn contends. "When a stand-up deals well with an occasional heckle, you think `That was good'. Improv is like watching that non-stop. An impro narrative can last 45 minutes; if that works, it looks like it's been scripted."

Bob Kulhan from Second City conducts a "long-form impro" masterclass on 30 Dec at the Red Rose Club. Bookings on 0171-498 9281. The next six- week London Theatresports impro workshop (for beginners) starts on 26 Jan, also at the Red Rose. You can book for that on 0181-888 7163. From 21 Jan, London Theatresports perform "Scriptease" every Wed at the Tristan Bates Theatre, Tower St, WC2 (0171-240 3940)

EXTRA

Is there no escaping the man? The night after he hosts "Channel Izzard" on C4, the apparently world-conquering Eddie Izzard puts on a special performance of his "Glorious" show at the London Arena, E14 (0171- 538 1212) tomorrow. For those of the assembled squillions at the back of the venue, the management are thoughtfully providing screens. So you'll be able to see in close-up such delights as Izzard's inimitable mime of an evil giraffe.

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