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REVIEW: I.M.P.R.O.V: The Improvised ’90s Sitcom

“Are you the melon who impregnated Jeffrey?”

Regularly accepting the challenge of reviewing the Cambridge Impronauts is like persisting in keeping a mayfly as a pet. It's a bit obsessive and useless, since each night is an unrepeatable experience. They summarised their own improvised sitcom perfectly this time: "we give like a vibe."

The formula is simple: a handful of talented 'Impronauts' are on stage, prepared only with a broad theme. The title, the lesson, and the exact location of the play is up to the audience. As a result, last night we saw the pilot episode of Shelfplace: The one with the importance of clarity.

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The '90s sitcom theme was a little disappointing. It's sort of cheating, since the improvisation is based on situation comedy anyway, but during this improv the audience was laughing so hard it was as if they were paid-laughter in a studio. Apart from some dialogue ("we were there for you, but you weren't there for us"), the stereotypical characters, and the improvised TV commercial, nothing really reminded me of a '90s sitcom. However, the '90s theme provided lots of sorely-missed cultural references, and the genre itself is pretty straightforward to follow.

If I were to summarise the bizarre plot of this improv, I would have to say that some librarians got angry with each other because of the theft of a watermelon, which led to their library being set on fire. A note in the margins might read: mathematics is the most flammable section of a library.

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Joel Lipson played a librarian who re-shelves books and pushes his rasping trolley around in the library with the hopelessness of Marvin the droid from the The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Isabella Leandersson played an awkward character who runs an illegal kitchen in the basement of the library. Her naïve twin sister whose career aspiration is to work in the LA Public Library was portrayed by Joe McGuchan. It was interesting to watch him jump from the confident host of the evening to the part of the ingénue. David Freeland played a strict and inflexible library inspector who is obsessed with the new cataloging system.

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Rachel-Marie Weiss brought intrigue to the part of a schemer, and James Gard was the director of the library, who would be perfectly normal were he not surrounded by complete idiots.

I have never worried for the Impronauts before, but after the first half of the evening I was not entirely sure that they could make something out of this story. However, they did manage to find a satisfying way to develop the plot, and the improvised commercial break helped everyone to recover a bit. Perhaps this quickfire shampoo advert was the best part of the night: Lipson and Freeland captured the audience and we laughed until tears streamed down our faces.

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Although this evening was not as consistent as past shows by the Impronauts, the audience was still laughing uncontrollably even after the performers left the stage and the lights were about to be switched on. I subtract one star only for pedagogical reasons – I know they can do it even better. But the Cambridge Impronauts still provide the best evening in Cambridge.

4/5 stars