Unleash the Beast

You head up the stairs of The Butterfly Club, imagining that you’re about to witness the release of some sort of majestic fanged creature into an arena where it will display its power. When you get to the bar, though, you find that this “beast” is already unleashed, and is happily socializing with its audience before the show has even begun. The vibe that you get from this beast is more “adorable kitten” than “terrifying tiger”.

International improvisor Pauline Calmé is no stranger to performance, and has more tricks up her sleeve than she lets on at first. Her down to earth pre-show presence in the bar is disarming, and is an indication of some of the distinguishing features of her approach: she is warm, respectful, eager to engage, and collaborative, even though (and she will remind you of it if you forget) it is her solo show. She guides you into a space of happy relaxation and then (gently) unleashes scenes built upon the foundation of what she has gleaned from her interactions with the audience. Unleash the Beast is performed in two languages: three nights in English, and two nights in French.

Leave your expectations at the door. You don’t know what you’re going to get in this fully improvised hour, and Calmé doesn’t either. There will be moments in the show where you don’t get anything at all, and there is no awkwardness around that. But for the majority of the hour, when Calmé plays off the audience’s ideas and energy, and brings to life all manner of people, animals, worldly objects, and even cosmic entities, you will be treated to a wonderfully skilled performance crossing over between clowning, improvisation, and physical theatre.

Calmé is brilliant at creating expressive characters with endearing personalities. Whether it is a person vs their dog, or an awardee vs the person giving the award, or a traditional actor vs an improvisor, or even a cotton candy planet vs a child – yes, these were some of the scenes that were played out on the night I attended – Calmé is adept at endowing her characters with persuasive motivations and memorable physical characteristics. The scenes she creates using these characters (all played by herself) are based on believable conflict between them, and yet where there are no heroes or villains. Ultimately, all that she creates and manifests is playful, expressive, and wholesome. Through a combination of witty dialogue and impeccable physicality, she delivers an enjoyable and entertaining performance.

There is a significant amount of audience interaction throughout the show. The show is built on it, and yet it is gentle and respectful, even when she is “roasting” her audience. I have never before encountered a comedian who will pause a scene to check in with an audience member and ensure that they’re still enjoying the attention, before returning to the scene and moving on. Pauline Calmé demonstrates warmth towards her audience, and regard for their feelings, and is a shining example of how to engage collaboratively, being mindful of individual consent. Her show will leave you feeling refreshed, respected, and happily entertained.

Rating: ★★★½

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