Improvisers go with the flow in creating Dyck Spacee on stage

‘Radio play’ combines film noir and sci-fi in Fringe fest production

Dyck Spacee: A Spy-Fi Improvised Radio Play, The Improv Centre, 1502 Duranleau, Granville Island, until Sept. 15. For more details visit

It wasn’t until she left England that Holly Dalston lost the script.

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Inspired by nimble-tongued thespians who populate British films, the Handsworth Secondary grad packed her bags to study classic theatre in London.

“I just fell in love with it,” she says.

She decried barren rascals in Twelfth Night and demanded: “Where learned you that oath, fool?” in As You Like It.

But both good times and travel visas run out eventually, and Dalston eventually returned to North Vancouver where she began to study a theatre style she’d so far neglected: improv.

An extremely shy child, Dalston recalls being hesitant to take the stage in school.

“I was really intimidated by all the drama kids but I always had the kind of creative spark,” she says.

For a reluctant performer, classical theatre makes sense. The stories are established, the character motivations are clear, and the dialogue is sometimes treated as reverentially if it were chiseled in stone.

But improv offered Dalston something else. Instead of certainties there were possibilities. Instead of plot and structure and character there was guess and guts and gamble.

And instead of a great voice, improvisers needed faultless hearing, she learned.

“The art of improv is just going with the flow,” Dalston says, discussing her time at Vancouver’s Improv Comedy Institute.

Her skill caught the attention of improvisers Rachelle Lachland Goulter and Debra Sears, who asked her to audition for their new production: Dyck Spacee: A Spy-Fi Improvised Radio Play.

The tryout was one hour of character work and a series of improv games, Dalston says. While some auditions can be terrifying, this one was exhilarating.

“I left going: ‘Oh my god that was so much fun!’”

She got the part, giving her a chance to participate in a play within a play centred around a live radio show that harkens back to the days when families gathered around the radio to hear the latest exploits of The Lone Ranger and Captain Midnight.

“We stand up there with our microphones and we make it all up,” she promises.

The performance is a light-hearted take on the film noir movies that usually consisted of dirty towns and filthy minds.

Film noir was largely a collision of German expressionism with the hardboiled stories of lust, murder and guilt mastered by James M. Cain.

But the end of the Second World War loosed a new strain in the genre. The crooks were still cheap and their patter was still gaudy, but in the postwar years personal corruption became increasingly associated with global catastrophe. In Double Indemnity (1944), Fred MacMurray plays Neff, an insurance salesman who sees his ruin in Barbara Stanwyck’s eyes. Just two years later, Orson Welles made The Stranger, and suddenly there was no need for a femme fatale’s corrupting charms. As a Nazi in hiding, Welles’s protagonist was already corrupt to his core.

A few film noir pictures hint at the potential for apocalypse, but the starkest vision of a black and white mushroom cloud is offered in 1955’s Kiss Me Deadly, a detective story that starts with a murdered woman and ends with a warning about atomic extinction.

“I’m going to pronounce a few words,” a cop intones in the bleak flick. “They’re harmless words. Just a bunch of letters scrambled together. But their meaning is very important . . . . Manhattan Project, Los Alamos, Trinity.”

Decidedly more lighthearted than its source material, Dyck Spacee aims to combine film noir conventions with science fiction. Picture a Martian in a fedora and you’re closer than you’d expect.

The cast has pored over a lot of the old movies, noting tropes and laughing at things “you could never get away with” these days, Dalston says.

To make the experience authentic to old time radio plays, the cast will also provide sound effects, snapping chopsticks for broken bones and slapping a football for punches, Dalston reports.

Asked why theatregoers should make time to see the show, Dalston points out that they don’t have to make very much time.

“It’s only 45 minutes,” she laughs. “It’s not two hours of your life.”

The other appeal, naturally, is spontaneity.

There’s no script. Instead, there’s a plan to combine the elements of the set, actors and audience suggestions: “and just see where the story takes us that night.”

Set for 10 performances, the production is set to debut Sept. 6.


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