Edinburgh Fringe 2015
A fast paced hour of varied characters, situations and plots – all made up on the spot, and completely different every night.
The set-up is simple: after a quick bit of low-level, no pressure chatting with a couple of members of the audience, this gang of bozos (that’s how you pronounce the name, in case you were wondering) deliver an improvised hour in which various stories and plotlines dovetail beautifully to a satisfying conclusion.
Marcus Brigstocke is placed front and centre of the posters that you’ll have seen around town, with an image riffing on the movie The Royal Tenenbaums. It is possible that he might be the most well-known face in a troupe that has a slightly different line-up in each performance and it may also be true that he’s the reason why some of the audience are coming through the door, but like all the most successful improv groups, there are no performers that stand out at the cost of others, apart from wherever your own personal preferences lead you. There is strong camaraderie that easily propels the action forward.
All in all, it’s a strong longform hour. You don’t need to be told that it’s impossible to review the individual plot of any particular night in an improvised show, but it’s worth pointing out that the group are confident enough with each other to allow relatively long moments pass without a gag, giving the piece enough space to breathe with moments of melancholy and quiet reflection. There are moments (qualification: in this particular performance being reviewed) that are genuinely quite moving. Also, it’s good to see the group genuinely delight in each other, finding each other funny, without ever becoming self-indulgent. Such confidence in one another translates to a good feeling within the audience, and there is great fun watching the story unfold via any number of possibilities.
To keep the narrative on the straight and narrow – or, let’s be honest, to keep it several yards away from anything even vaguely resembling the straight and narrow – an omnipotent voice gives a steady hand to proceedings (because, yes, Deborah Frances-White is God), prompting plotlines in certain directions, demanding revealing questions of certain characters. To some in the audience, this might look like so much guidance into a safe zone or even pre-planned material , but it’s actually more demanding of the performers than that: it means that, in the heat of the improvised moment, none of the actors are allowed to wimp out and escape or give up on a storyline just because they’ve had a momentary brain freeze. As improv shows always run the risk of having smart audiences be at least three lines ahead of the actors on stage, the prompting means that the Beau Zeaux are always prodded into finding richer characters, more interesting storylines, and bigger laughs. For at least the casual observer whose improv cherries might so far be Whose Line Is It Anyway flavoured, these bunch of Beau Zeaux are a good gateway drug into the heady world of longform.