The immense energy of Baby Wants Candy starts before the show has even commenced. As the audience are guided to their seats, the five-piece band that accompanies the troupe of actors improvise on stage, so absorbed in their music they seem almost oblivious to our entry. With the pianist thrashing the keys so hard his keyboard stand is threatening to give way, the room buzzes with high spirits.
Enter the actors. Seven of them, skipping onto the stage, are met with a roar of applause from the audience. They explain to us the premise of their show: a fully improvised musical, where every note is made up on the spot, with a title suggested by the audience on the night. After a few suggestions, it is decided that tonight’s musical – running for one night only – will be Penguins Discover Irn Bru on Mars. A bit of a limiting title, perhaps, but to the credit of the troupe they run with what they are given and deliver the story of a post-apocalyptic group of penguins living on Mars, where there is no water but a mysterious orange liquid that everyone is terrified to taste. Supplying quip after quip about Scotland’s bizarre patriotic pride over Irn Bru, Baby Wants Candy clearly know their audience.
However, despite some excellent laugh-out-loud moments it is inevitable that in a cast of seven, the actors don’t receive equal stage time. This results in the illusion of stronger cast members holding up weaker performers, as those who aren’t main characters rarely have the opportunity to make the audience laugh. It is worth mentioning that even though not everyone is in the spotlight, the troupe are well attuned to one another and rarely step on each other’s toes, steal each other’s limelight, or try to be the funniest in the troupe, vices which are all too common in improvised theatre.
Unfortunately, the actors are not always in sync with their band to quite the same capacity. They don’t often pick up cues from one another. The band begin to play if they expect a song to start soon, and sometimes the actors keep up their dialogue too long, creating musical anticipation that lasts much longer than is comfortable. Combined with the fact that not all of the actors are equally adept in setting lyrics to music with a natural feel for the rhythm, this means that some of the songs fall flat. Others, however, are absolutely show-stopping, and show off the sheer talent of some incredible, Broadway-trained voices, whether or not the lyrical jokes hit the mark.
Ultimately, Baby Wants Candy succeeded in a tough task: improvising an entire musical with a time limit cannot be easy. Like all improvisation, however, the show falls into a difficult spot where some nights are infinitely better than others. Was this night ‘sh*t your pants funny’, as their tagline advertises? Perhaps not. But some in the troupe certainly have good comic timing, an awesome talent for quick wit, and some of the most beautiful singing voices you’ll hear outside of serious musical theatre – a combination that makes for an entertaining hour even on their off days.
Baby Wants Candy
Assembly George Square Studios – Studio 1
Runs until 26th August.
Photo credit: Robyn Von Swank