Five students, an hour of improvised games, and endless possibilities. The University of Edinburgh’s Improverts perform every night of the Fringe on their home turf at Bedlam Theatre, crafting new skits from audience suggestions and showing off their quick wits in this comical and easy-going show.
Right from the get-go, the Improverts’ greatest skill was in creating a laid-back atmosphere, which is crucial to a show that needs constant audience participation to suggest settings, characters, and topics for the skits. The jovial and often bawdy humour of the cast members made the room feel smaller and more intimate, making it easy to overcome the usual self-consciousness felt in a room full of strangers. From the loud music and sound effects to the encouragements to cheer and make noise, those watching were immediately made a part of the show.
The ability of many of the performers to invent believable characters one after another was impressive. Perhaps the most noteworthy was Ben Horner, whose ghoulish humour can only be compared to Richard O’Brien’s Riff Raff in The Rocky Horror Show. Horner not only created songs on the spot without being repetitive or cliché, but simultaneously created characters that were visually distinct from one another, even though he never changed more than his posture and expressions. Caroline Elms, meanwhile, had a truly impressive command of accents and body language, convincingly morphing into a South London man much larger than herself.
While none of the skits or games completely missed the mark, there were a few hiccups that could use smoothing out of the course of the Fringe. For one thing, the audience cannot always be relied on to give suggestions that will actually work for the games. While weird and offbeat suggestions often create humorous restrictions in a game that make it funnier in its ridiculousness—one scene which the crew spent talking to a cloud comes to mind—some suggestions were too niche and specific. The cast too often tried to work with characters or settings they didn’t know very much about, and would have been better off spending more time prompting the audience to come up with more viable suggestions. A concern for time was noticeable in a few of the games getting rushed. There were also just a few moments of awkwardness with jokes that didn’t quite come off, but this is probably to be expected in a completely improvised show, particularly with amateur performers.
Still, the Improverts are a guarantee for a good time in late-night comedy. While not groundbreaking or unforgettable, for an hour of goofiness and fun, they are well worth the time.
Bedlam Theatre (Venue 49)
Until 29 August
Photo credit: Gavin Smart