Caro Meets Comedy Interview

Shaun Lowthian: The Wunderkammer

By | Published on Friday 25 February 2022

As you know, because we keep telling you about it, there are lots of venues hosting shows that should have been on at the Vault Festival this year, had it not been for its sad cancellation.

One such show is ‘The Wunderkammer’, brought to you by acclaimed and award winning improv troupe Do Not Adjust Your Stage, which heads to Camden People’s Theatre for three dates this week.

It’s quite an unusual improv show, really, as it features a TED talk style element… but I’ll let our interviewee explain all that for you.

To find out more about the show, and the creative team behind it, I spoke to DNAYS member Shaun Lowthian.

CM: Can you start by explaining the format of ‘The Wunderkammer’? It seems quite different from other improv shows.
SL: In ‘The Wunderkammer’ we invite guest speakers to deliver a short TED-style talk on their expertise, passions or hobbies, which provides the inspiration for improvised scenes and sketches from us. Neither the audience nor performers have seen the talks before, making each show unique. You can come safe in the knowledge you won’t be picked on for a suggestion, but you will have the chance to ask our speakers a grilling question if you like!

CM: What inspired you to take this approach to improv? What made you think this would work as a concept?
SL: Improv is having a real moment in London. The scene is growing massively and producing some amazing talent, but we know it’s still at the nicher end of the comedy world. The type of audience improv attracts is curious and willing to try something different, which is also the ideal setting to learn something new about a subject you might not have thought about before.

When we created the show in 2014, we wanted to create something more theatrical and thought-provoking than a normal improv night. Our number one goal is to entertain, but it’s no bad thing if we learn something interesting alongside that. Audiences respond really well and it definitely creates great pub chats post-show – It’s so nice to see people come back with their friends to the next one.

CM: How do you choose your guest speakers? What are you looking for from them?
SL: Our speakers are the rock stars of our show. A big goal for us is that they come from a diverse range of life experience and a mix of topics, from genuine cutting-edge science to a surprising passion in something quirky and fun.

We’ve been lucky in the past to have had talks from the likes of a Cornish hip-hop guru, the lead scientist cloning Dolly the Sheep, Cambridge University’s sexiest astrophysicist, a historical photograph colourist, an expert in mediaeval swearing, a TV commercial composer, a specialist in animal mating rituals, a ransom negotiator, a Government economist, and a Guinness World Record holder.

The main thing that unites them all is that they’re immensely passionate about their subject and want to share that with a wider audience. The best talks have a personal story behind them and a twinkle of silliness.

CM: Can you tell us about the guest speakers involved in your upcoming shows at Camden People’s Theatre?
SL: We’re delighted with the amazing speakers who are joining us for the run.

On 3 Mar we are joined by Helen O’Hara – film critic, journalist and editor-at-large for Empire Magazine – plus Geoff Marshall, transport expert and YouTuber on the secrets of the Elizabeth Line

On 4 Mar it’s zoologist Lucy Cooke and TV/podcast producer Katrina Bell.

And on 5 Mar we have Sam Wong – Assistant News Editor at New Scientist, writer of the science of cooking column – and mindfulness speaker Anis Qizilbash

CM: You’ve been doing this for a while now – are there any shows that stick in the memory as having worked especially well?
SL: Each of the cast has their own favourites but it’s a genuine joy for us that every show feels completely different, especially where we’ve performed abroad, way out of our comfort zone. We’ve had a TV commercial composer in New York, a Finnish education expert, Tallinn’s professor of time, and a professional adventure skier at the Paris COP21 Climate Change Conference as particular highlights. Our run at Camden People’s Theatre is the first for ‘The Wunderkammer’ since early 2020 so we’re sure these upcoming shows are going to be very memorable.

CM: Can you tell us a bit about DNAYS – how did the troupe come together and who is involved?
SL: Our core cast, other than myself, is Rhys Collier, Tim Grewcock, Helen O’Donnell, Nick Oram, Clare Plested and Matt Stevens. Most of us met studying in Sheffield, starting the improv comedy society there – shout out to The Shrimps! – before the glamour of the Big Smoke brought us together again as DNAYS in 2010.

Since then our group has grown to include some leading lights of improv in London. Pinching ourselves that the same people we’ve seen passed out on the floor of many a student club-night are now award-recognised writers and actors across theatre, TV and radio.

CM: What impact did the lockdowns have on you? How did you get through it?
SL: No getting around it, the lockdowns were devastating for live comedy. We pivoted to running online shows for a while, but were chomping at the bit for a return to the atmosphere and buzz in-person shows whenever we had the chance. It’s great to see audiences coming back and spending an hour in our silly company. It’s totally improvised, but we promise to TRY to avoid mentioning C-O-V-I-D at any point.

CM: What aims does the group have for the future?
SL: We’re so grateful to Camden People’s Theatre for stepping in to give ‘The Wunderkammer’ a home when this year’s Vault Festival was sadly postponed. We’re hoping to tour this show to different venues across London and the UK this year, building on our runs pre-pandemic with the Natural History Museum and National Gallery among others. Do get in touch if you know somewhere great! Lots of the cast are writing in theatre and short film at the moment too.

CM: What’s coming up next after this?
SL: We’ll be bringing ‘The Wunderkammer’ to Machynlleth Comedy Festival in May, and we also have our regular shows at the pillar theatres of improv comedy in London, the Free Association and Hoopla. More info at and @dnayscomedy

I’m also performing in the very fun improvised medical drama ‘St Doctor’s Hospital’ at The Free Association every Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 10 Mar-9 Apr if you’re after a new improv fix!

‘The Wunderkammer’ is on at Camden People’s Theatre from 3-5 Mar. For more info and to book see the venue website here.

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