Bristol Improv Presents...

Tue 6th – Sat 24th August 2013

reviews

Joshua Phillips

at 10:19 on 20th Aug 2013

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How do you go about reviewing a show that is entirely improvised? What do you write about when every show is going to be different from its prior iteration - perhaps completely, and perhaps in subtle nuance? What do you read a review of improv for? Having read the review, any show that you see will never quite be the same as the show that you had read the review for. And how does this meta-dramatic spiel lead in to an actual review about an actual performance?

Bristol Improv presents their audience with an improvised film noir, the title of which is picked out of a hat from audience members’ suggestions. Today, we were treated to ‘The Adjective Noun’, a skewering of titles such as ‘The Big Sleep’ and ‘The Maltese Falcon’. Not an easy brief to live up to. Bristol Improv turned this brief into a kind of literary whodunit, the story of a young ghostwriter, Frankie, who schemes and backstabs his way through a memoir of a messy divorce and finds himself stabbed in the back. There’s moody piano music. It’s all done in a sort of mock-Nyoo-Yawk accent. The word “schmuck” is thrown about rather a lot. It’s really very noir-ish.

Of course, any improvised show is likely to be patchy, and with a prompt as difficult to work with as ‘The Adjective Noun’, it might well be fair to cut the troupe some slack. And they do have quite a few good running gags: there is one about writing from the perspective of a woman that tickles. There are also a few skits that showcase Bristol’s improvisational ability better than the plot does. It was plain to see that Bristol Improv weren’t happy with what they were doing, and it showed in how the plot needed to be ushered along almost forcibly.

In a sense, the brief that Bristol Improv were given was perhaps too broad: the troupe were given too much to play with, but at the same time, too little. They asked their audience for direction, and were given a prompt that could be interpreted as virtually anything. And that’s a pity. Bristol Improv seemed to be wasting quite considerable potential in this performance - it’s not infeasible that performances following this one will be completely different, and far more solid.

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Imogen O'Sullivan

at 17:51 on 20th Aug 2013

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In Bristol Improv’s final week at the Fringe, they tackle the film noir genre, and deserve to be applauded for their grasp on New York accents alone.

Director Dan Titmuss opens the show by reading out discarded audience suggestions for film noir titles, speedily making up plots on the most bizarre of grounds, and announcing the final title, selected at random to be.... ‘The Adjective Noun’. Whilst this was an ideal opportunity for a particularly smug audience member to show off their smarty pants, it provided a real challenge for the troupe. Frankly, it’s just very difficult to make a story about books very interesting. The performers rose to the challenge with varying degrees of success, but the packed out audience of Whynot accepted each fumble and slip with grace and appreciation; the Bristol Improv were certainly crowd-pleasers.

Their use of projections to create a filmic backdrop for their ad-libbing gives an original twist to the free improv format, awarding Bristol Improv’s show with a sense of panache, continued by the effective use of music. The improvising pianist skilfully managed to evoke a cinematic atmosphere despite having no idea of the content of each scene. Stephen Hartill as the unfortunate protagonist, dealt well with the interior monologues delivered to an imaginary camera. However, his first interactions with Robbie Kornitschky seemed clumsy, with the actors blocking each others’ suggestions. The topic of whale-farming, which later offered up a nice vein of comedy, was first responded to with the obvious criticism that you don’t farm whales.

Imogen Palmer and Caitlin Campbell show themselves to be skilled character actors; Palmer particularly shining in a section where she ad-libs ‘poetic’ metaphors, many involving marshmallows. Campbell displayed a great sense of comic timing and was particularly active in creating opportunities for the rest of the troupe to shine. Occasionally she seemed to be striving overly obviously to steer the plot towards the desired conclusion, a necessary evil in improv, but one that may benefit from more subtlety. In general, the cast failed to gel instinctively; improv requires a level of ensemble work akin to telepathy and, in this case, the performers occasionally failed to follow on from each other’s cues.

The set up of Bristol Improv’s show has an awful lot of promise: the structure is clever and slick and the performers are all skilled and quick-witted improvisers with a great sense of genre and character. In this particular performance, the troupe had their work cut out with a difficult start title, and I have no doubt that, on other occasions, they have the potential to produce four and five star performances.

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