Edinburgh Fringe 2009
There are a few new ideas forming in the over-stuffed world of improvised comedy, which has been chugging along in a Whose Line Is It Anyway style since .. well, since Whose Line Is It Anyway. One of the freshest concepts is improvised movies, which is a neat gag, since it’s pleasingly impossible – you’re attempting to take a concept that normally only ever appears on screen, and present it on a live stage. Normally, we’d call that a play. With improv, it can be very funny.
The Scat Pack have verve and gutso, and benefited from a hugely enthusiastic audience, who, in a Godsend for any improvisation team, were full of ideas and suggestions.
It’s a pity, then, that these suggestions aren’t treated with more respect: things get off to a shaky start when the director asks for a location that a film could be set in, and, when told ‘a prison cell’, visibly winces, and tells us that an entire film can’t be set in a prison cell. Why not, exactly? You’re improvisers: nothing should be impossible. You can’t ask for ‘any’ suggestion, then ignore what we give you; it makes us very unlikely to speak up again.
It’s easy enough to use improvisational sleight of hand to guide us into a series of limited choices: we’ll know what you’re doing, but won’t care – and feel even more genius when our suggestions are taken on without accommodation.
The issue is, if the performers onstage are too regimented about what suggestions they will or won’t accept, it begins to set up those alarm bells when you suspect that half of what you’re about to see is actually planned. This is, of course pretty much impossible – there are too many variations and combinations to contend with – but is further compounded when the director, when introducing scenes, tells us, as well as the location or time, what the characters are thinking, or how the mood has changed. Surely it should be up to the performers to provide the content, otherwise the audience cannot help thinking they’re merely following some template being acted out, a basic script that would’ve stayed essentially the same aside from a few tweaks here and there, particularly if they haven’t suggested the most telling and challenging concept: the genre.
However, these are quibbles, because there are flashes of brilliance here, and if the group could learn to listen to and accept their audiences’ suggestions more they could simply be flashily brilliant. There are some lovely performers (the boys, however, must learn to give equal space to the single female on the stage, particularly if your chosen genre is Romantic Comedy), and, crucially, both lighting and improvised music make up an important part of the scenery. A great team having great fun.