Improv Comedy is a difficult beast to review. It’s hit-and-miss by definition. Even the best shows will have mediocre days; whether the performers aren’t at 100% or the audience suggestions don’t quite lead to the comedy gold that they did the night before.
Buying a ticket to an improv show is the night-out equivalent of sticking your hand into a lucky-dip bucket. As such, it doesn’t quite seem fair (to anyone) to compare these performances to scripted ones.
For this year’s Fringe we only tried our luck three times, with appropriately mixed results.
Showstoppers! The Improvised Musical
Most successful when we got to see them was Showstoppers!.
This well-honed troupe have been semi-regular performers in London and around the world. They’ve got their formula down to an art.
Singing in styles and scenarios nominated by you: the audience, the three-piece band and 7 singers do remarkable work playing off one another while weaving a moderately formulaic but no less satisfying narrative into a 60 minute performance that will entertain even the most improv-phobic theatre-goers.
Murder She Didn’t Write
There’s a surprising spate of improvised murder mystery shows this year, with this being easily the most talked about. Surprisingly, it felt less sure-footed and more “University students go to Fringe” than any other show we saw throughout the festival.
As with a lot of improv, watching funny people try to make one another break character is half the fun. Unfortunately, for Murder the goal seemed closer to three-quarters or four-fifths of the fun.
The audience suggestions here were either cursorily glossed over or a distraction that led the performers down cul-de-sacs; nevertheless, there’s clearly quick wits and fun comic minds at play here. Even for a performance that erred closer to a ‘miss’ on the hit-or-miss spectrum, this team will keep you entertained.
The surprise of our improvised Fringe experiences was that the most experienced performers gave the least satisfaction. It should not have been a surprise, although it seems to be each time.
Having enjoyed Paul Merton on Have I Got News For You, Just a Minute and the original UK edition of Whose Line is it Anyway?, I was excited to see him live. Then the day’s rotating line-up was announced to include Richard Vranch and Michael McShane (key improv players to anyone with fond memories of Whose Line)!
The structured improv games felt tired. On more than one occasion, games that were struggling to find humour in the situations stumbled on too long.
It was hardly all bad, of course, and a pleasure to see flashes of Merton’s surreal brilliance, but, like amateur Fringe-goers, we fell into the trap of expecting too much from a team we thought would be a sure thing.