Mission: Improv-able

WILL KENNAWAY is more impressed with these comics’ quick thinking than with their singing skills.

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It’s a pretty good wheeze, isn’t it?  Get the audience to do the thinking and then riff off their ideas for an hour and ten minutes.  This time around, the theme is spies—on opening night this translated into an adventure through Australia revolving around a boomerang with the ability to turn any who throw it into communist sympathisers.  After they’re given a location and some significant objects to work with the performers’ job is essentially to work through all the implications of those selections—to take them to their logical conclusions, and then some.

The audience seemed to eat it up.  Each performer (and I apologise for not being able to name individuals—Camdram is not very helpful with this kind of show) has a clear sense of how to move scenes and dialogues onwards.  Sometimes their attempts at doing so succeed and result in genuinely hilarious moments where spontaneous puns and turns of phrase are tossed between actors with aplomb; often, inevitably, the scene falters a bit, and the dialogue neither plays the concept straight enough to be funny for its own sake nor makes it so ridiculous as to be funny through sheer whimsy—a disappointing and unamusing middle ground.  The best example of this was the initial cover of the Goldfinger theme tune.  Obviously it’s difficult to improvise song lyrics, but, after you get over this fact, hearing five paraphrases of ‘boomerangs return when you throw them’ is just not that funny.

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Alex O’Bryan-Tear, presenting, does a particularly good job of charismatically rolling with the audience’s suggestions, as well as judiciously cutting scenes that are going past their sell-by date and glossing those which misfire.   A broader problem with the show itself is that it spends a little too long working solely with the material offered at the beginning.  My attention definitely waned around the fifty-minute mark, and it wouldn’t be a bad idea for O’Bryan-Tear to work a little more audience input into the action at this stage just to keep things fresh and interesting.

There are two reasons why improv like this is pretty hard to review.  Not only is the genre itself a bit of an acquired taste, but some of any performance’s funniest material and non-sequiturs are inevitably going to be the work of the audience itself.  All that is really left to appraise are the individual qualities of the performers themselves and how well they work as a group—and for the most part, they do a decent job.

Improvisation is difficult, and audience members seem to be sympathetic to this; gags that otherwise wouldn’t be that amusing often get rapturous laughter through a combination of this sympathy and the audience’s own investment in the ideas they provide.  Though the humour is a bit inconsistent, there is a real energy in the room; at the risk of drifting into Easter-term cliché, for a fiver, it’s by all means a nice revision break.