Edinburgh Fringe 2014
Four improvisers, Clive Anderson, suggestions from the audience: but this show is absolutely not ‘Whose Line Is It Anyway?’*
*It totally is.
It’s strange, but it seems inevitable that any improv show in the fringe feels the need to mention in their listings exactly what improvisation is. Normally, the phrase ‘from audience suggestions’ will be used. And quite often, the holy phrase ‘think Whose Line Is It Anyway’ will be invoked.
Ironically, the one improv group that arguably has the most claim to that title is the one that literally – legally – absolutely cannot. There’s a whole complicated and no doubt somewhat tedious set of ongoing negotiations to do with the US television version, but for the thousand strong group of adoring fans that piled into the Underbelly, it’s no doubt true that the point quite genuinely doesn’t matter. This is the show that they loved in all but name.
Speaking of which, the names of the games themselves have changed, possibly as part of the copyright conversation, possibly as a gag on the copyright conversation, or equally likely, simply because they’ve been updated after twenty six years. Doubtless the rota of games gets changed each night to accommodate the strengths of whoever is performing that night, but its likely that there are old favourites (or versions of old favourites) to please everybody.
The line-up does change from night to night, and on the night of this review, there was a supreme team: Stephen Frost, an old favourite from the 80s series, corpsing and delighting in the wit of his team mates, Greg Proops, still waspishly sparring with Clive Anderson, Colin Mochrie, managing as always to be razor sharp while being generous with his fellows, And Marcus Brigstocke, more than holding his own against seasoned improvisers who have been doing this sort of thing for well over half his lifetime.
Another cliché of improv is that churlish reviewers will never be able to quite accept that it really is made up on the spot. WDTTMA? Puts the lie to that: while the games are simple short-form favourites, the wit, energy and simple listening skills that are going on are a master-class in decent improvisational comedy without any bells and whistles. And this is an improv nerd speaking. For normal people (i.e., everyone else), it’s simply a very funny and clever hour.
Some games involve audience involvement, and it is to the performers’ credit that the whole enterprise does not fall apart at these points. One game involves volunteers providing sound effects, and on the night of this review, the two audience members got somewhat carried away, and simply provided an ongoing stream of sounds that bore no relation to the on-stage action, rather like a badly tuned FM radio. To be fair, one suspects that while the game is always made up, the audience participation might often turn out the same.
In short, What Does The Title Matter Anyway is at great pains to let you know that it has nothing to do with a show that you might have seen on Channel 4 in the eighties. In even shorter (form), this show is exactly what you’re hoping it would be. Playing fast and loose with the format is all very well, but one hopes that all things legal are sorted out soon, and that we get to see a lot more of this show.