BattleActs! Improvised Comedy - Free

Thu 4th – Sun 28th August 2011

reviews

Patrick Sykes

at 11:15 on 29th Aug 2011

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Battle Acts introduces the element of competition into the improvised comedy environment. This particular evening the red team consisted of Phil Mann and Chris Eastwood, and the blue team of Tom Butler and Anna Leong Brophy, all Battle Acts regulars. Both teams used many of the ‘classic’ improv gags that I had seen at The Improverts show a few days earlier, but to much greater success.

These, along with other, more original games, ranged from basic character, situation, location prompted narratives (Gilbert the accountant goes to the zoo), and conversations which moved forward one letter of the alphabet at a time, to the impromptu composition of a sonnet (on Harewood, the Gloucestershire engineer with a passion for road cycling), and a condensed rendition of Toy Story.

What sets Battle Acts apart is that the teams do exactly what is asked of them, but are then required to go further, and the laughs build as an already ridiculous original premise is then played against itself, and spirals into a brilliant silliness. Phil and Chris’s reduced Toy Story was eventually limited to ten seconds, and at the same time had its scope widened to include two sequels; and some of the more word-based games had Oulipo-esque limitations imposed, such as not being able to use the letter ‘e’. The teams use improvisation to generate basic material, but then play with and recycle it, using the originally random situation as a starting point for a kind of live rehearsal that refines itself as it progresses. The fact that hesitations were not tolerated from the teams, and the audience are encouraged to shout to have anyone who falters removed from the sketch, ensures that a snappy pace is sustained throughout.

Compere Michael Keane deserves much of the credit for this. He knew exactly which combinations of audience responses would produce the most bizarrely entertaining sketches, how best to complicate the prescribed situations even further, and dealt brilliantly with some tricky heckles from one particular group of the audience, ridiculing them into reluctant silence, and to the approval of the rest of the packed crowd. Anna Leong Brophy, the only girl in the two teams, bore the bulk of their ‘enthusiasm’, and although her work in the sketches was some of the weaker in the night, she excelled when put on the spot, and easily won the crowd by using the hecklers against themselves.

By far both the best stand-up and best free fringe show I’ve seen at this year’s festival, Battle Acts are an enigmatic and compelling riot of exquisitely absurd, original comedy. Catch them at their regular slot at The Dogstar in Brixton, the third Thursday of every month.

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Alexandra Sayers

at 12:19 on 29th Aug 2011

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'BattleActs!' is an improvisational comedy show featuring two teams of two, battling it out to win the top comedy spot for the evening. Of course, due to the nature of improv, each show is very different from the last, so I can only give my views on the specific night that I saw and not a blanket consensus. It is, however, the same four players each night, and so I can definitively comment on the proficiency of these talented comics. Special recognition must go to the only female comic of the four, who dealt with compromising positions and annoyingly immature front-rowers with true style. In fact, she was the most inventive quick-thinker of them all, displaying amazing timing particularly in ‘New Choice’, a game in which one team begins a story, but is promptly at the mercy of the audience shouting ‘new choice’, and having to change their line of speech. The hardest game, it seemed to me, and the one which reaped the richest rewards; perhaps the best scene of the whole show being the Blue Team’s attempt to escape from their London Eye pod.

All comics showed a remarkable and unstoppable amount of exuberance, ready for any challenge and any situation thrown their way. Of course, some parts were better than others, due to particular feeds that the players received sitting better with their comical faculties than others. This is not the fault of the players, however, but simply the price one pays for improv comedy, and anyway, this show was free, so no slip-ups felt too much like a waste. The show depended largely on audience response: both to change a scene, and to dictate its beginnings. So when one member of the Blue Team was challenged to compose a Shakespearean sonnet about someone in the room and Herewood from Gloucestershire was chosen, it made for difficult rhyming and an ultimately underwhelming poem. Full points for effort, though, as all the on-the-spot actions each team did were so above anything that a mere viewer could have done that it definitely put them into a professional league of their own.

The cleverness and sharpness of these four seeped through practically every single act. The show could not have been done without the brilliant compère, reacting with the audience, explaining the rules, and counting the points. An hilarious comic in his own right, he was the glue that welded this piece together, and guaranteed a very enjoyable evening.

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