Bristol Improv For Hire

Sat 4th – Sat 25th August 2012

reviews

Pia Dhaliwal

at 02:32 on 17th Aug 2012

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Improvising comedy in front of an audience is a pretty terrifying prospect, not least because doing so appears to depend on the audience as much as the performers. But Bristol Improv For Hire have given themselves a solid concept to work with in terms of student appeal, framing their improvisation around the theme of graduates attempting to get jobs – definitely a relatable premise that can consistently be mined for laughs.

The venue is great, with a more casual seating plan than more regimented theatrical shows. The pre-show music and proximity of the bar makes for a relaxed atmosphere ideal for getting an audience into the spirit of things. This tone is very much built upon by compère Daniel Titmuss’ enthusiastic introduction, his energy infectious despite a late lighting cue. The group of performers are subsequently introduced, and the first improvised comedy setting is soon underway. It is at this point that the bar appears to be set with regards to individual ability, although any slow starts here are as much attributable to fielding bizarre audience suggestions as they are to personal talent – I did not envy Mel Melville having to portray the characteristics embodied in frogspawn, for example, although Tom Carvell drew a lot of laughs with his depiction of a snowdrop.

Given the wholly unpredictable nature of improv, it is therefore unsurprising that the show veered wildly between hilarious and downright strange. Although the overall tone was mostly amusingly surreal (which the group seemed quite comfortable with), there were a number of missed opportunities and exchanges that appeared to go nowhere. Then again, this was balanced out by moments of utter brilliance, such as Imogen Palmer waving imaginary fish around declaring that she was ‘playing COD’. Having a different subset of performers in each improv game did mean that levels of chemistry and comic timing between each group varied accordingly; a game in which the quirks of different party guests had to be guessed, for example, was far more successful than one in which a one-sided die had to be sold through careful verbal cooperation – although Titmuss was generally on the ball in keeping things from dragging too much.

On the whole, the incredibly variable link between audience and performers makes it admirable that the group nonetheless manages to attain an impressive level of humour. This is especially noteworthy when bearing in mind the fact that these are students putting on a free show. The audience appeared to be enjoying themselves more often than not, undoubtedly due to the group’s apparent energy and willingness to go along with some pretty odd suggestions. Watching them might be a bit more of a risk than with other forms of comedy theatre, sure - but the payoff is definitely worth it.

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Ettie Bailey-King

at 08:58 on 17th Aug 2012

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Reviewing improv comedy is a bit like gambling. In this scenario, I’m your friendly neighbourhood bookmaker humbly offering a wager; a ratio of odds as to whether their next performance will be more or less funny than the unique and never-to-be-repeated occasion on which i saw them. So if Bristol Improv were a horse I’d tilt my head thoughtfully before saying that they had good form, training and prospects. They probably eat an excellent diet and their manes certainly glowed with health. In essence, you could do a lot worse than place your hopes in this talented collection of improv comedians.

The group as a whole are solid. They seem comfortable in the often choppy waters of quick-fire audience response and they balance the competing demands of energy against imagination with aplomb. Rather than ploughing enthusiastically into dubious improv scenarios, most of the actors display a healthy bit of reserve, an awareness that the most fruitful plots require every member of the group to navigate carefully.

While the dynamic is strong and everybody is working constructively together, there are some stand-out performances. Dan Titmuss as compère does an admirable job of rousing the audience into involvement, and without his simple but highly effective compèring a show like this would have floundered. Good shows have imploded from weak audience input, and Bristol Improv did their best with a slightly lethargic bunch. Caitlin Campbell was the sharpest and quickest of the group and gave many a well-timed one-liner which raised the show to a higher level. Tom Carvell was spectacularly silly, with a nice sense of comic timing and a fine line in accents and weird, lingering looks that were perfectly matched to the demands of the sketch.

The format (an extended ‘job interview’ that weaves together a variety of improv exercises) worked very well and – for the most part – kept things moving along productively. Where the holes in this performance emerged was a handful of rather stilted transitions and dead-end plots which were not wrapped up quite quickly enough. That said, despite being a genre which is ripe with the potential for tedium, Bristol Improv almost entirely avoided such pitfalls. They were, for the most part, a real pleasure to watch. The group is strong, cohesive and – at it’s best - truly hilarious. There are plenty of kinks to iron out, but with a little more polish and showmanship, we could be looking at something brilliant. So if this were indeed a horse (you didn’t think I’d let the equine metaphor slip did you?) you might say it was a sure bet for today (and being a free show, the cash-to-fun ratio certainly doesn’t get any better) but more importantly, one to watch for a spot of future greatness.

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