This Slate is Intentionally Left Blank

Sat 2nd – Sat 23rd August 2014

reviews

Tania Nicole Clarke

at 15:22 on 17th Aug 2014

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If you’re feeling peckish around one o’clock, and are in need of a spicy comedy pick-me-up, then the UCLU Comedy Club have just the snack for you. The Blank Slates are a whimsical, fun-loving comedy troop who are open for business in the basement of a Mexican restaurant on Frederick Street, with their brand new inventively interactive improv sketch show ‘this slate is left intentionally blank’.

As we enter the basement we are asked to write a thing, anything at all, on a cheery yellow post-it note and hand it back to one of the Blank Slates, who frantically welcomes audience members and undertakes the ground work for this wacky, weird and wonderful sketch show. We are told that some of our ‘things’ will feature later in the show, an exciting premise, and like school children we obey and add our ideas to the magical comedy cauldron.

Audience participation is the fundamental ingredient needed for this particular show to really click, because we are about to witness a sketch show made up of live improvisations based solely on the ideas and suggestions provided by audience members. The Blank Slates really are at the mercy of their humour-hungry audience, who perch on the edge of their seats ready to be entertained. And we certainly are.

As the audience take their seats the troop can be seen ‘warming-up’ in the wings, the warm-up consists of them raving to Run-DMC. Before the show kicks off the audience are lead through a ‘warm-up’ coordinated by one of the Blank Slates, who asks us to perform a Mexican Wave of animal noises, divides us into two teams and trains us like a bunch of baboons to clap in unison as he conducts us like a madman. Banter indeed.

The show is structured by a series of games in which the Blank Slates are the contestants and the audience add fuel to their fire by providing stimuli, some good, some bonkers, to act as starting-points for the improvisations. All of the improvisation games used in the show are pretty successful as activators of comedy, but some work much better than others. The story-telling improvisation game is a lot of fun, the audience kindly provide the working title for a tale which the troop then have to retell for us. The story is called ‘Margret Thatcher in Wonderland and the Toaster’.

I know what you’re thinking, it sounds horrific, but the collective narrative created is hilarious, each contestant contributing to the story when they are indicated to speak by an umbrella. The shorter, snappier sketches such as this are fun-filled crowd-pleasers that never fail to make us laugh, but it is a shame that as the show continues the sketches gradually become slower, the stories created are lengthy and overly elaborate, and the troop eventually lose their spark.

There is a noticeable drop in the energy during the main improvisation game which is plonked in middle of the show. It tells the tale of ‘Winnie the Pooh’, with a twist; the laughter becomes less and less as the ludicrous plot is developed, and it is at this point that the Blank Slates fail to sustain the attention of the audience. ‘This slate is left intentionally blank’ is an entertaining lunchtime comedy treat, but needed a real kick up the bum half way through the show to really keep us fully engaged with the action.

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Molly Brown

at 10:05 on 18th Aug 2014

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Improvised comedy is always a lottery. This one looked promising: the basement of the Mexican restaurant was full, and the audience responded heartily to an energetically delivered warm up that had us all mooing and honking in a Mexican wave.

This Slate is Left Intentionally Blank was fifty minutes of improvisation games which included one of its five cast members extracting invisible bananas from his person, and some others battling over the narrative of "Margaret Thatcher in Wonderland with the Toaster". Suggestions were gathered from the audience both through heckling and on post-it notes as we arrived. For the most part, the left-field characters, household implements, and political problems were handled dexterously, and the performers had the crowd engaged enough to forgive moments when the mask of slickness slipped.

By about half way through, however, the brochure promise of lightning pace was becoming increasingly inaccurate. The phrases I was scribbling on my notebook began to change from ‘hilarious’ to ‘limp’. It was a mistake to embark on a lengthy story involving Winnie the Pooh and the sawdusting of the hundred acre forest. The joke that Christopher Robin now works in IT wore progressively thin, and the story was only rescued by desperate physical comedy involving a ‘puffling’ who wrestled a chainsaw-wielding ‘Dennis’ to the ground.

Nonetheless, the team wakened the audience with a final few, shorter games and sent us off with smiles on our faces, the dull moments almost forgotten. UCL’s premier improvisation troupe succeeded in making us laugh, but it remains a student show. Albeit a mixed bag of tricks, This Slate is Left Intentionally Blank is good fun. To take away the lottery element that makes the quality variable would be to take away the essence of improv. If you happen to be in New Town, give them an hour of your time. If the gods of the laughing dice are not in your favour, you can always get Nachos from upstairs.

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