Improvised Comedy and Theatre at the Fringe

Improvised performance tends to be mostly comedy-based at the Fringe. Yet there is also a smattering of improvised music and theatre as well.

There are news shows on offer each year and the quest for a novel angle is always at the forefront as compnaies and performers try to win the audience battle. There are also improv fringe institutions – companies who come back year after year who have built, not only a loyal Fringe audience, but also on tour around the UK and in their home towns and cities.

Now, let’s be clear from the start – not all improvisation-based shows take suggestions from the audience and you may wish to start off with the highly respected The Halls of Ridiculous: Improvised Sketch Show which is, as the title suggest, a sketch comedy format show.

Now, let’s get this out of the way quickly. FringeReview’s highly recommended comedy favourite? Men With Coconuts. And if you want to know why, read Donald Stewarts’ review here.

If darker comedy is your cuisine, then Sex, Lies & Improvisation offers a neat conceit: “Inspired by an anonymous lie chosen by the audience, each show reveals why we lie to the people we love.”

Improv also covers legal territory where the audience gets to decide who is innocent or guilty in a fully improvided trial in This Is Your Trial.

The tributes

Tribute and brand name improv is rife at the Fringe. for example, Adventures of the Improvised Sherlock Holmes takes you on an award-winning improvised romp through the underworld of Victorian Britain, packed with shady villains, red herrings and the brilliant deductions of London’s greatest detective”. Or for some improvised retro-sci-fi, you might enjoy After Dusk: The Improvised Twilight Zone. If you are a Doctor Who Fan, it has to be Any Suggestions, Doctor? The Improvised Doctor Who Parody,

Going a bit more literary, Fringe improv favourites Austentatious are back with a fully improvised Jane Austen novel every show. For lovers of spoof science fiction and not necessarily Doctor Who, spin across to Bad Clowns: Invasion

Our “one to bet on” has to be Shamilton. Axxording to the group that also brings Baby Wants Candy (see below): “Shamilton is just like Hamilton but (ahem) better! Expect the same level of hip hop, incredible songs, moving storytelling, stunning choreography and powerhouse singing, except made up on the spot.'”

There is also something for Harry Potter (remember him?) fans in the guise of The Show That Must Not Be Named. If you want to double your spend out, there is also Spontaneous Potter Kidz: The Unofficial Improvised Parody. I think these companies use time-turners. There is also an adult version where Muggles get to see the adult bits the kids don’t in Spontaneous Potter: The Unofficial Improvised Parody.

Improvised murder?

You’ll find more than one improvised comedy murder mysteries at the Fringe and we have happy to bet our blood money on Criminal. If you are after even more, the highly acclaimed Fringe improv regulars CSI: Crime Scene Improvisation are back. One final pick for a full murder mystery binge: Murder, She Didn’t Write.

Impromptu Shakespeare is for lovers of the Bard. For TV series Friends obsessives, it has to be MATES: The Improvised 90s Sitcom.

Family fun

For a family friendly improv show, you should give Absolute Improv! a try. “For over 10 years Absolute Improv! has entertained sell-out audiences with off-the-cuff comedy performances from Scotland’s top improvisational comedy actors. For over 10 years audiences have suggested ideas to inspire side-splitting sketches created in the moment: truly you-had-to-be-there comedy created before the audience’s eyes.”. There is more on offer for the over 8s in the form of fringe regulars ComedySportz UK. “You’ve seen football. You’ve seen tennis. But have you seen comedy as a sport? Don’t miss the festival’s funniest fixture as two teams battle it out for your laughs with quick-witted gags, games, sketches and songs inspired by your suggestions.”.

My personal favourite family-friendly improvised show is a game shoe choose your own adventure spoof which is both interactive, innovative fun. Go see The Dark Room (For Kids!). “You’re in a dark room…” (There’s also an adult version called John Robertson: The Dark Room).

Finally, for over 12s familt friendly comedy improv, Fringe institution The Oxford Imps are worth a place in your schedule.

The big names

The big (even global) improv troupes also return and Baby Wants Candy is literally world famous and rather excellent.

Improvised musicals also abound, for example, The Bean Spillers: The Improvised Musical is “an improvised musical based on scandalous stories from the audience“.

The Impro All Stars, as the title suggests, stars, well er… stars from the world if TV improv. See who you recognise if you go, Improv Cage Match is improv that pits improv teams against each other. The Improverts are perhaps the Fringe’s most perennial favourites bursting with late night young energy.

Billed as The Spice Girls of Impro, in Notflix: Binge “the all-female cast improvise the musical version of your favourite films, creating movies with 100% more singing, 99% more women and a full live band”. I mean, you can’t not, can you?

Finally, if you are after pretty much the first, original and classic improvised musical, then book no further than Showstopper! The Improvised Musical.

Alternatives to comedy

Improv isn’t all comedy and theatre. For example, lovers of rap can gasp at and enjoy Chris Turner: Rap God as “Jaw-dropping freestyle rap and hilarious stand-up combine for an hour of high-octane musical comedy”. For purveyors of cisual aet, you must out Flow: A Life Painting Performance in your diary. Here is the whole lowdown on this unique Fringe event. “An immersive improvisation; an exploration of paint, space and sound. Edinburgh artist Alan McGowan, life models Topaz Pauls and Alisdair Richardson and musicians from S!nk will collaborate to produce a changing, shifting, developing scene recorded in paint. Be carried on the swell of the music as the model flows from pose to pose. Witness the paint accumulate as the artwork evolves. Fuelled by each participant’s attention to each present moment – what emerges will be unexpected, unpredictable; a result of the ephemeral leaving its trace.”

For some straight-laced improvised theatre, put The Glass Imaginary in your diary. The company “improvise a brand-new play every evening inspired by the works of Tennessee Williams.”

For some international improvised performance with a difference, there is Marriage in Progress which “playfully sends up lifelong commitment while celebrating it, and critiques the vanity of performance while revelling in it. “ American Theatre Magazine describes the show as “groundbreaking, unscripted work challenges the way we watch theatre and has been counted amongst the ‘best and boldest shows’ in a revolutionary ‘new wave’ of improvisation.”

Hip Hop is also a well established improvisation-based genre and MC Hammersmith: One Man Eight Mile is one to see.

And that’s it … for now…

There’s a lot of improv emerging from lockdown and there was plenty going into it as well. Perhaps we are all improvising more than ever. Improv at the Fringe could be a shot in the art for our over-scripted lives. There are many more shows in the Fringe programme. As we find more that we like, we’ll add it here.