Impro FX: The Improvised Panto

Sat 2nd – Sun 24th August 2014


Claire Murgatroyd

at 08:23 on 11th Aug 2014



One classic flaw with pantomime is that the jokes are always the same. Stale and tired, the kind of laughter they elicit tends to be sympathetic, habitual, forced. I was, upon coming to see this show, certain that, while not a fan of the form myself, surely improvisatory, spur-of-the-moment gags would at least add a veneer of freshness to this performance. I was sorely mistaken. The second the cast chose the audience’s suggested title of ‘Jack and the Seven Dwarves’, I knew I wasn’t in for a treat.

Today’s fairytale basically consisted of an unfortunate Jack, still living with his pantomime dame of a mother at age thirty-five, having to cope with his own social clumsiness as well as the wicked King Colin (who, by the way is his mother’s lover), and the sarcastic teen princess. King Colin’s childhood trauma at the hand of his petite parents made him resentful of all smaller than himself, and in a particularly uncomfortable - and sometimes offensive – song about killing the seven dwarves, cemented his role as evil villain in the performance. While the ‘plot’ will be different every night that the audience goes to see it, if this confusing mixture of exaggerated stereotypes is the best that this cast can do, my hopes are not high for their future endeavours.

This performance lacked any of the satirical material or attempts at contemporary references that makes pantomime occasionally subversive and more than just childish horseplay, which I found more than a little disappointing. Admittedly, Will Naameh as today’s classic pantomime Dame (complete with beanbag breasts and pinny), added some of the pizzazz and showmanship that pantomime needs to make up for its inherent stupidity; but I felt that his performance alone, while strong, could not make up for an improvisatory effort so weak that the ‘happy ending’ had to be desperately cobbled together by Jack marrying a horse.

Partly perturbed by the screeching drunken audience members surrounding me, I found it hard to get on board with such a half-hearted stab at comedy. Audience enjoyment seemed to be an afterthought to this four-strong cast, who were more interested in competing with each other to see who could sing and rhyme the most comically. A case of grown men displaying the kind of juvenile desire for attention and recognition the likes of which is normally seen among the under-eights. Overall, I found myself disheartened that such a palpably intelligent and personable cast could not do better. It wasn’t a wholly unpleasant evening, but I wouldn't necessarily recommend that you go and experience it for yourselves.


Bridey Addison-Child

at 10:07 on 11th Aug 2014



For a show whose plot changes every night, it almost seems unfair to give a star rating, though it’s true that the production does retain a consistent premise throughout its run: Harry Gooch, Steve Worsley, Sam Irving and Will Naameh are a group of comedians (joined by Daniel McGurty on the Piano) who improvise an hour-long-panto replete with audience interaction, songs and the token villain.

This production is hardly highbrow Fringe, but then to expect highbrow from a panto suggests that perhaps the laugh should be on you. I found myself reasonably entertained by a kind of boyish, silly humour, at least for the first section of the show. Gooch, especially, has a kind of likeable, quick wit about him, which carries the production in slower moments. The improvised songs are fun enough, and if nothing else, Worsley has an impressive singing voice.

The main problem for me comes with the naturally fast-paced nature of the improv, which results in not only a lot of ‘filler’ material but also in the group touching on some material that borders on being offensive. I felt like they missed a trick in not going down a slightly more satirical route at times. Since the production is performed entirely to adults, I was almost willing the comedians to poke fun at the 2D panto characters that they were portraying (and everything they represent). Of course, that’s easier said than done when you’re standing on a stage improvising a pantomime.

The synopsis of the particular panto I saw is irrelevant to this review - since if you see the show it should be completely different - but suffice to say the route of the plot was a little convoluted at times. As such, the show didn’t reap the benefits in the cliché of the simple panto plotline, but neither was its alternative route all too successful. Having said this, the group did manage to squeeze just the right amount of self-deprecating comedy out of their roundabout storyline.

I get the impression that the show is incredibly varied, and has a huge amount of potential – but unfortunately the variables at play when you put the words ‘pantomime’ and ‘improv’ together proved too much for the company on this occasion. Overall, if you’re in the area (and fancy a pint and a few laughs) pop down and give it a look-in.


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