The Improv Musical - Edinburgh Fringe

Wed 12th – Mon 31st August 2015

reviews

Michael Roderick

at 11:00 on 21st Aug 2015

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When I emerged from C venue after witnessing The Improv Musical, I found myself slightly puzzled. I wanted to know why I my reactions to improvised comedy this year have been so varied. I wanted to know why I came out of some of these shows laughing my spleen off, and why some left me faintly chilly. The perplexity was especially acute after this show, since throughout I had sat, occasionally proffering a tepid chuckle whilst the audience around me roared with delight. So I’d say this first: I have seen much better improvised comedy this year (Austentatious and What The Dickens being two examples), but this was still an energetic, fun and entertaining show.

I think the best improv works through hilarious juxtapositions; it is a style that flourishes in absurdity and is least funny when it coheres or is superficially successful l- I mean by this that the cast manage to create something genuinely coherent: songs that work, dialogue that seems a little too polished, a narrative arc. This is why shows like Austentatious and What The Dickens – shows that set themselves prior limits, give themselves a set-up in which the mayhem can charge about – are so hysterical. When a cast of Dickens characters are forced by audience demand to confront a troupe of space monkeys, or to attend the Eurovision Song Contest, the outrageous juxtaposition is utterly side-splitting. When the juxtapositions are not set by broad, previously decided conditions, as with this show, there is a less fertile ground for comedy.

For instance, it was decided that at the start of The Improv Musical that the cast should go about constructing a piece from the following: a school staff room as a setting, a cast composed of (at least) a mysterious janitor and a foreign language teacher lacking in English, and a title of ‘Death In The Dorm’. You see, it all coheres, there are no appositions. And so whilst it’s very impressive when they compose songs with imaginative and pertinent lyrics, and they manage to fashion some funny jokes and japes, the level of ironic comedy is largely lost.

I don’t want to be unfair to the cast, though. There’s a lot of talent on offer here. The foreign language teacher was superbly animated and often very funny – primarily because he exposed the juxtapositions and absurdities most successfully. He was the most ironic and also the most aware. The host AJ King was also excellent, a great galvaniser of the audience. Much of the audience loved it. I, too, enjoyed it. It is a very good, fun show. But for me, though, it misses the mark in its understanding of improvised comedy.

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Alannah Jones

at 11:16 on 21st Aug 2015

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In the interest of full disclosure I feel that I should add a caveat to this review - I would probably not have elected to go and see an improvised musical comedy of my own volition. That said, I came away from the show thoroughly impressed by the vivacious talent and innovation of the six performers and pianist.

The premise of the show was extraordinarily simple; we are loudly welcomed to show by the beaming director and compere AJ King, the performers are brought onstage costumed in brightly coloured t-shirts (adding to the children’s TV presenter vibe already established by our compere), the audience are then asked to provide suggestions of setting, characters, title and the name of the first musical number in the show.

The setting was the first to be secured, with ‘school staff room’ winning in a democratic ‘which suggestion gets the loudest cheer’ system. I must admit I was disappointed; a musical set in the orang-utan enclosure of monkey world sounded intriguing, however I’m sure that the novelty of actors jumping about pretending to be primates would wear off long before the end of the hour. Setting was followed by characters and title and soon enough we had the makings of ‘Death in the Dormitory’.

The most difficult demand was for a character who spoke no English; I found myself wondering how the cast would cope with this, and yet Florian Panzieri rose swiftly to the challenge and quickly became everyone’s favourite character and the hero of the story. Other commendable performances came from Charlotte Beesley as the school headteacher and Branagh Crealock Ashurst as the mysterious caretaker. The cast slid effortlessly into characters conjured up in the blink of an eye, with impressive commitment to characterisation.

Some of the moments when the performers slipped up were actually the funniest, as the cast dealt with them jovially. For the most part, however, Death in The Dormitory ran remarkably smoothly.

All in all, the show was lively and entertaining, silly and impressive, if not quite my cup of tea.

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