Edinburgh Fringe 2011
Give a thousand monkeys a thousand typewriters, it is said, and they’ll produce the complete works of Shakespeare. Quite apart from making you stop to consider what the same monkeys could achieve if you replaced the typewriters with ipads, it would seem to also beg the question of what would happen if you gave monkeys the skills of Paul Merton and co. In this show, despite what it suggests, the evening is not entirely improv – there are sketches, and a guest stand-up thrown in, too. And while there’s a fair bit of fun to be had, it remains true that the show would be much stronger if the team stuck to one or the other.
Putting improv and sketches on the same bill is a fairly risky business. Unless it’s hard-wired into the DNA of the night – a cabaret evening, for instance, the audience are always going to be somewhat unsettled and unsure unless the performers onstage are absolutely assured and confident. Both halves of the night are perfectly reasonable, but both genres – sketch comedy and improv – are very good examples of ‘good enough’ never being good enough. That being said, there are some god ideas here, particularly when the team mix up genres – key parties in the Austen era, for instance, or an ‘8 Mile’ rap-attack delivered by Restoration dandies.
It’s when this group hit their high energy mark that they’re at their best, since they are a personable, attractive bunch who are willing to please. However, improv audiences (and, in particular, improv critics) are a discerning crowd who won’t always be satisfied with anything less than excellent improv. Of course that’s unfair, but it’s almost always the case. It’s not that The Monkeys are bad, it’s just that they, as performers, are not currently pushing themselves to get any better. They also seem to be hell bent on self sabotage: they haven’t yet found a way of efficiently guiding an audience to make suggestions, meaning that the audience too often clams up, or makes suggestions that are difficult to implement. When members are not performing, they have a habit of staring absently at the floor, rather than paying attention to their fellows on stage – an easy, and bizarrely common mistake. In fact, these – and other – mistakes are so common that almost any other improv group on the fringe are doing exactly the same.
It’s a shame, really, because this is not an untalented bunch, and indeed, there’s not a weak performer amongst them, and, in addition, not one of them comes across as smug or self-satisfied (another very common trait amongst young improv groups) For future reference, what’s needed here is much more focus, significantly less complacency (one of the most common sins amongst young improvisers) and more direction – or, to be more exact, a clear director: someone to tell them that their good isn’t good enough. And once that’s achieved, they could be very good indeed