The Best of UCLU Comedy Club

Sat 6th – Sat 27th August 2016

reviews

Zoe Bowman

at 10:15 on 22nd Aug 2016

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Improvised comedy is by no means an easy feat, and 'The Best of UCLU's Comedy Club' takes up this challenge in the form of an improvised courtroom drama. To begin with, members of the audience are asked to provide potential defendant names and court cases, from which the cast then randomly pick combinations from; tonight, we have the defendant Jack Sparrow in the Case of the Expanding Turtle. This performance of "The People V. The Blank Slates" promises a hilarious and fast paced improvised comedy. Instead, the audience is given a forty-five minute long sketch that is packed with vigour and enthusiasm, but which ultimately falls flat at the want for genuine comedic moments.

In an ode to children's pantomimes of their past, the cast ask the entire audience to shout out answers to questions such as "What is your name?" / "Who is your favourite celebrity?". Unfortunately, this reflects the tone of most of the comedy to come, including the adoption of high pitched voices and the anthropomorphising of animals to create a number of cheap laughs. Overall, they work well with the story line given to produce a nonsensical and wacky performance that at times can be reasonably amusing. However, it is evident that the cast struggle to move the tone of the comedy past this ridiculousness as the show progresses.

To give the cast credit, the majority of participants excel at demonstrating their enthusiasm for the production. Whilst Jessica Edney as Judge Crystal is hesitant and uncomfortable, Emilio Scozzafava and Sebastian Umrigar stand out as they throw themselves wholeheartedly into the task at hand. Judging from the laughs from members of the production both on and off stage, the performers clearly enjoy what they do and this transpires to the audience; the production is rarely awkward and their exchanges flow together and work surprisingly well. Whilst most of the comedy is based around ludicrous scenarios, there are several quick quips ("I love animals the appropriate amount") which indicate that, given a different scenario, these guys have the potential to do extremely well.

It is fair to say that whilst 'The Best of UCLU's Comedy Club' is not the most impressive comedy act you will see at the Fringe, their drive and enthusiasm may result in some commendable improvised comedy shows during their time here. Unfortunately, 'Jack Sparrow and the Case of the Expanding Turtle' will not be hitting headlines any time soon.

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Lizzy Galliver

at 12:32 on 22nd Aug 2016

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The very best of the UCLU Comedy Club apparently comes in the form of an improvised courtroom comedy: ‘The People vs. the Blank Slates’. The audience is boldly promised the ‘trial of the century’, but unfortunately the trial of forty-five minutes is forty minutes too long. As is often the risk with improv, spontaneity fails to generate any real humour, and uncertain chuckles from the already sparse spectators are painfully few and far between. While stage talent is discernible at times, poor use of audience prompts and overused allusions to the fourth wall accentuate what becomes a fairly sloppy performance.

At the beginning of the play, spectators are invited to slip suggestions of a defendant’s name and trial idea into two fishbowls. As someone who recoils from most audience participation, this level of involvement works pretty well for me; personal investment is elevated while my feet lie planted safely on the right side of the stage. Yet what at first seems an innovative and propitious set-up falters as subject matter is revealed. After showing no qualms at having a rifle through the lucky dip and rejecting three unsatisfactory proposals, I am not sure what prompted Edmund Colley (Bill) to stop at ‘Jack Sparrow and the Case of the Expanding Turtle’.

Apart from one feeble reference to Amber Heard, the cast seems to forget that the plaintive is Jack Sparrow, instead taking the audience on a tedious journey through the life of a completely unrelated zoologist. To his credit, Sebastian Umrigar (aforementioned zoologist and Stanley the turtle) sets a darkly funny tone to the performance by earnestly insisting that he "loves animals the appropriate amount". What follows, however, is a rather convoluted tale of exploding animals, talking turtles and Irish pirates (in the Galapagos?) that cannot be saved even by the promise of animal innuendos and weird royal fetishes. It could have worked, but, dotted with awkward pauses and offstage giggling, it doesn't.

For the most part, the cast cope well with playing a number of different roles, and their palpable enjoyment in doing so is partially infectious. While Emilio Scozzafava should work on varying his permanently shrill ‘acting voice’ between mother, Queen and goose (a flaw which unfortunately does not dissipate after being acknowledged), his onstage enthusiasm is mostly engaging. The same sadly cannot be said for the Right Honourable Judge Crystal (Jessica Edney), who fails to fulfil her sole personality criteria of being ‘strict’ and basically just whispers ‘shush’ occasionally.

Improvisational comedy is no doubt an ambitious skill to master, and ‘Jack Sparrow and the Case of the Expanding Turtle’ is admittedly a bit of a non-starter. While ‘The People vs. the Blank Slates’ exhibits a certain degree of charming rawness, the performance mostly falls embarrassingly flat – and, in doing so, potentially curbs the theatrical talent of some cast members.

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