Edinburgh Fringe 2010
It’s a very tough call to improvise an entire hour of a unscripted story. It’s a deceptively simple and alluring idea, but there are plenty of pitfalls along the way. It takes a very skilled group at the top of their game to produce sixty minutes of sharp, brilliant comedy. Because that’s the challenge now with this sort of improvised comedy: audiences expect nothing other than sheer excellence.
Let’s get it out of the way right at the start, then: this is not that group. They’re certainly good at short-form improv, but linking together a longer narrative is currently slightly beyond them. Despite the made-up-on-the-spot nature of the evening, the fact that it’s a single story demands a beginning, middle and end. It’s very noticeable, too, that there are a few too many ‘talking heads’ scenes – actors simply chatting to one another, not moving much – when, frustratingly, what they’re discussing could easily lead to some interesting and vibrant movement.
There are flashes of brilliance, however – mainly when the company attempt to recover from a clear mistake. At one point, a performer gets confused about the character he’s been endowed with. He’s immediately corrected by the company, who manage to weave his mistake into the plot. That’s certainly an improvement on a moment minutes before, when one actor, clearly not agreeing with his partner’s (genuinely very smart) rescue of his mistake, simply scowls, shakes his head, and ignores the new narrative.
The night soars when the group allow some basic short-form to bolster the plot, such as Oscar winning moments, alongside flashbacks and flashforwards. Significantly more of these would improve the show greatly. Improv works best when it appears to be operating on nothing less than alchemy, when the audience can’t believe how it’s working. This is perfectly fine improvised comedy, but in a genre that’s raising its game pretty much by the day, it may be appropriate for this group to hone their skills with short form games before returning to this level.