Spontaneous Sherlock

Sat 8th – Sun 30th August 2015

reviews

William Shaw

at 01:21 on 20th Aug 2015

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When Arthur Conan Doyle argued that a detective should eliminate the impossible, he clearly wasn't thinking with an eye towards improvised comedy. Nevertheless, the performers and musicians behind Spontaneous Sherlock manage to deliver a rip-roaring riot of madcap entertainment, putting paid once and for all to the notion that improv shows on the free fringe aren't worth the price of admission.

Before the show, a number of suggestions for titles are taken from the audience, and one is drawn from a hat to determine the content of the evening's entertainment. Sam Irving takes the role of Sir Arthur himself, with Will Naameh and Nicola Dove playing Holmes and Watson respectively, with Eric Geistfeld rounding out the troupe, and all four swapping roles as required (including some hilarious hat-swapping as multiple parts enter the same scene).

All four are witty and energetic performers, and while each could likely hold a room's attention on their own, the four of them together are an absolute treat. No one actor is ever allowed to overshadow the others, and when all four are on stage together it's poetry in motion, each building on the others' lines and assembling top-notch comedy in seconds.

Backing them up are a Victorian-style band consisting of Szymon Podborączyński, Graham Coe and Henkelpott McGurty, and while they do well enough with a few scattered music stings and whimsical backing tunes, they are not a particularly important or memorable part of the production. There are long stretches of hardly any background music, and you could be forgiven for forgetting that the show has music at all. There is a distinct sense that the band can't keep up with the show's frenetic pace.

The improv itself, while largely brilliant, is perhaps a little too invested in plot. There are a few moments where up to a minute is spent on expositional wheel-spinning, with the actors clearly stalling for time. The results, however, are reliably gold, so this is a minor quibble at best.

On the whole, Spontaneous Sherlock is an infectiously riotous whirlwind of a show, with an effortlessly brilliant cast and a deceptively simple premise. What's most surprising is that, really, that's all you need to make a great Fringe show.

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Verity Bell

at 13:16 on 20th Aug 2015

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In this scintillating production, a talented company of four improvisers and live musicians expertly craft a brand new Arthur Conan Doyle masterpiece every night based upon the suggestions of the audience, placed in a hat before the start of the show. Spontaneous Sherlock is a winning formula for improv: the ideal balance of period tropes of the genre (a mystery to solve, cryptic clues, and the much beloved characters of Dr Watson and Holmes himself) with the marvellously absurd. The list of previous shows and leftover suggestions is a litany of creativity: Sherlock Holmes and the Crafty Butcher, Sherlock Holmes and the Seven-Headed Dildo Monster, Sherlock Holmes and the Curious Case of the Tuesday Picnic are highlights.

The cast are incredibly skilled, concocting genuinely original characters at the drop of a deerstalker and functioning as a cohesive, single entity: the entirely devised plot was without contradiction despite the suitably cryptic nature of its twists and turns. The real strength of the show was the deft responses to the inevitable features of improvised productions: the wandering plot, the risks inherent in taking on multiple roles and the hurried tying of loose ends as the performance comes to a close. There was precisely the right amount of meddling with the fourth wall and breaks from the (otherwise incredibly convincing) language suitable for the genre to celebrate these cracks when they appeared (“if we’re naked, where on earth were we keeping these weaponised hairbrushes?”). This self-awareness kept us in stitches, and when we were not laughing, we were quietly in awe of the ability of the cast to solve unsolvable plot puzzles.

The extent to which this production captures the spirit of possibility and imagination of both improvisation and 221b Baker Street can be deduced without a sleuth by the peals of laughter echoing around the absolutely packed hall. Spontaneous Sherlock is orders of magnitude better than Benedict Cumberbatch: miss it at your peril and hound your friends to go and see it.

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