UCLU Comedy Club Presents...

Sat 8th – Sat 29th August 2015

reviews

Julia Pritchard

at 09:14 on 10th Aug 2015

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Armed only with the audience’s imagination in a dingy Edinburgh nightclub most notable for it’s sweaty stench, the wittingly named ‘Blank Slates’ perform a hidden gem at this year’s Fringe, as UCL’s comedy improv team.

Being given only the basic premise of a superhero saving the day, the idea is that the create the story by shouting out ideas at the cast. A risky concept, I have to say I was pleasantly surprised as an improv newbie; there is something exciting about watching the show shapeshift to the suggestions you dare yourself to call out.

The team made the whole improv concept more entertaining by using several different methods to spark ideas. A particularly successful one involved the audience writing down quotes, which cast members would read out at random mid-sentence, completely throwing off the plot in progress. Watching the students salvage the story as the discussion of alien domination was interrupted by the phrase "You’re a wizard, Harry", was met by sniggers from the audience.

Of course, the risk with improv is that some stories may not flow as well as others, and the storylines can become very far-fetched thanks to input of haphazard ideas in moments of panic, to keep the story going. However, the Blank Slates mostly managed to maintain a story with energy and most importantly, humour, the whole way through. The minor narrative slips and repetition that did occur were not down to actor fault, but instead, the nature of the show itself.

And to be fair, we didn’t make it easy for them as an audience, with our suggestions forming a barmy story about superhero ToastMan and his war against aliens and a Sensei called Tom on the ‘Japanese side’ of the Mississippi River. Sorry.

The cast coped very well overall, chuckling only occasionally at the ridiculousness of the situations they had to re-enact, for example when the ToastMan’s enemy sprouted wings and became half-bird, but these moments made the piece even funnier, rather than appearing unprofessional. In particular Sarah King, who played the narrator role as an agony aunt really stood out, addressing the audience with charm and enthusiasm, as well as having her Scottish accent down to a tee. So much so, that I was shocked to realise she wasn’t actually an Edinburgh local at the end.

With different stories formed at each show, you can’t guess what might happen if you pay this a visit. But you can be sure of a successful hour of comedy that you can really get involved with.

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Holly Willis

at 09:39 on 10th Aug 2015

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Improvised comedy, particularly on the Free Fringe, can fall anywhere between utterly hilarious and toe-curlingly awkward. Fortunately for the UCL Blank Slates, their efforts incline towards the former. The cast take on the daunting prospect of an hour of improvised comedy with great gusto. Whilst some actors cope better with thinking on their feet than others, the cast on the whole handle the high-pressure situation admirably. Were it not part of the Free Fringe, I would definitely pay to see this show.

Although some performances feel a little awkward, the standard of acting is generally high. Sarah King in particular stands out, playing in this instance an agony aunt seeking to discover the truth about the show’s superhero, Toastman. Her Scottish accent is so convincing that I was surprised to discover she wasn’t actually Scottish, and she chips in at just the right moments to ensure that individual sketches don’t run on too long or peter out.

There are other noteworthy performances from Matt Bonner and Eamonn Connelly, who prove very skilled at coming up with quick comebacks and inventive additions to the improvised scenarios. The talent on show means that those who struggle more with improv stand out, with Rosie Nolan in particular appearing uncomfortable and hesitant at times. Incidents of awkwardness and self-doubt are few and far between, however, and the cast should be commended for their professional and fun attitude.

The cast demonstrate their skill especially well when constructing sketches based on audience ideas. One scene sees two government-style officials attempting to conduct a ‘serious’ conversation made up entirely of lines supplied in advance by the audience. When lines do not fit with the dialogue, they either make them work or laugh them off: both methods are equally funny to watch. The nature of improvised comedy does not allow for much by way of set and costume, but the actors more than make up for this with energy and personality.

There are of course a couple of moments where a cast member becomes lost for ideas and the flow of the performance is hindered. The cast members are good at sensing when a sketch is becoming a losing battle however, and quickly change tack. Despite the occasional falter, this show is one of the best things I have seen on the Free Fringe so far. Fast-paced and never boring, this is a fun hour of improvised comedy.

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