Prague Fringe 2012
Absolute Improv is a quick-fire sketch show based entirely on ideas provided from the audience. A variety of games sees the team rapping, solving mysteries, having their limbs manipulated like puppets or joining quiz shows, all the while taking the most surreal diversions in their stride. The sketches can struggle a little when the audience offers poor suggestions, but the comic talent of the actors usually proves equal to whatever is thrown at them.
The brains behind the show are ‘To Be Continued…,’ a 6-piece improvisational comedy troupe based in Edinburgh, who perform short- and long-form sketches all around Scotland and elsewhere. Formed in 2009 to provide workshops and bring together other improv actors, the troupe has gone on to be recognised as one of the key movers in the Edinburgh scene.
For this year’s Prague Fringe Festival, TBC have sent three of their members – Peter Aitchison, Harry Gooch and Paddy Hare, a trio with great chemistry who instantly had the crowd on their side thanks to a combination of high energy and a sensitivity to the people whose ideas are so important to the show.
Absolute Improv was perfectly paced – the sketches never went on too long and the next idea was always following quickly on the heels of the one before. The wide variety of games ensured plenty of changes of scene and style to keep things interesting, they were well designed to combine the actors in different ways and set them new challenges.
The best game for me was the ‘Chain Murder Mystery,’ in which Paddy and Peter left the room while Harry created a story with the audience involving a killing, with a mystery victim, location and weapon. Our audience came up with a dictator killed in Edinburgh Castle by a stamp collection launched from a catapult. Paddy and Peter then attempted to solve the mystery without using anything other than hand actions and gibberish language, leading to some comical misunderstandings.
Problems occurred when the audience failed to come up with good ideas, for instance, when asked for a location for a sketch they offered ‘Liberec,’ perhaps not too surprising as the show was in the Czech Republic, but it was a place that didn’t give the actors anything to work with, it lacked the rich possibilities for humour that somewhere more well-known would have offered.
Or sometimes the opposite occurred – suggestions were too surreal and abstract, so the performers couldn’t use them except by resorting to a kind of nonsense. This defeats the object as the humour is generated by the actor’s attempt to work the difficult idea into the scene without stretching the boundaries of possibility too much, if it becomes meaningless then the sense of challenge and skill is lost.
During these cul-de-sacs, perhaps the audience could have been guided by hints or examples into more fruitful territory, or more than one idea could have been taken on board. Obviously the strictly improvisational nature of the show shouldn’t be compromised, but it can be difficult for the audience to come up with good ideas on the spot, especially if they’re new to this kind of show, they sometimes need some prodding in the right direction.
Not to be deterred, the trio overcame every difficulty through sheer energy and a willingness to work with anything the audience came up with. The theatre was rocking with laughter and the crowd was engaged throughout with suggestions and friendly banter. If you enjoy audience participation and you think you have some funny ideas to share, I heartily recommend you go to this show – laughs are guaranteed and the performers will welcome your input as well.