EDINBURGH 2019: BWW Review: IMPROV ACTUALLY, Gilded Balloon
The Cambridge Impronauts bring their rom-com inspired show, Improv Actually, to the Edinburgh Fringe.
At the top of the show, they take suggestions of character dating profiles from the audience and a favourite is decided by vote. The group then attempt to improvise a full romantic comedy within an hour using that character as the protagonist.
For this particular performance, the audience settled on an MI5 agent called Mark Justice who spends his spare time spying on his friends. It was a shame the audience wasn't also given the chance to choose his love interest.
In fact, once those in attendance had provided those characters, they were largely ignored for the remainder of the piece. In shows of a similar sort, the audience is often asked to provide locations and plot points in order to further challenge the improvisers and involve everyone in the room.
Additional ideas from the audience can also be used as a tool to switch up the narrative when the scene is running too smoothly or isn't progressing. Unfortunately, the latter occurred for much of this particular show. There was no clear leader of the pack making sure things stayed on track which led to a rambling and stagnant story.
After a very elaborate description of a park from several of the actors, they became fixated on a minor detail of bees flying around which ended up dominating the story. This did have the potential to be hilarious, but the group sadly didn't deliver.
Conversations were repetitive, clogged with unnecessary and inconsistent backstory - pointed out by one of the characters at one point - and failed to set a pace that was engaging. Efforts were made by some of the players to move the narrative on e.g. to make sure the protagonists actually met after multiple sluggish scenes.
Lighting was used to highlight the (rare) romantic moments in the piece, and one of the Impronauts ventured over to a keyboard provide suitable twinkly music. A tool that did work quite well was a split scene technique where two conversations happened interchangeably, but when this was used more than once, it appeared to be the only trick the group had up their sleeves for diverging from a more linear storyline.
There were times when it looked like the piece would recover, notably when a pun about the couple meeting on the Bumble dating app got a few laughs and energised the players. However, most jokes made by the troupe garnered not much more than a small chuckle from the audience and they were wise to round up the story well before the scheduled end time.
Improvisation is hard and while a low artist to audience ratio can create a challenging environment, Improv Actually was disappointing on this occasion. More systems could have been put in place by the troupe to keep each other on task.
Cambridge Impronauts: Improv Actually at Gilded Balloon Patter Hoose until 26 August