It’s a brave thing to ask your audience for the title of the show you’re about to perform. It’s even braver to ignore some of the audience suggestions when you’re only offered three. While I can’t help but wonder what some of the ideas would look like, that’s not the one we end up seeing: instead, we’re granted with the Mullet family of competitive hairdressers, whose family reunion takes place, for some reason, at a county dog grooming championship. So we begin on a 70-minute, completely spontaneous performance by House of Improv – to all intents and purposes, an epic task.
The nature of improvised comedy inevitably means it will change from night to night. For this performance, unfortunately, the pieces didn’t quite come together as smoothly as they might. With the luxury of forward-planning removed, the piece overran by a significant margin – although, to the credit of all involved, it was worth bringing the piece to a fully resolved conclusion, rather than cutting it off at an abrupt end. There was also some confusion which couldn’t be remedied quite so easily – one member of the troupe attempted to keep things on track with a series of addendum scenes, but these came across as fairly opaque, and the hints weren’t always followed by the other cast members. However, as the piece neared its end, the slightly waylaid performance did begin to pick up some speed.
Although the joy with improvisation is often in the mistakes – and are a vital source of humour in and of themselves – there were unfortunately many which made the piece perhaps clunkier than intended. Names were forgotten, characters speak over each other – to an extent inevitable, but slightly too often – and pauses drag out a fraction too long. At other points, the actors seem at somewhat of a loss and the piece loses momentum. It’s likely a combination of inexperience and full-house nerves (there’s hardly a spare seat in the house), but there’s a slight lack of the stage-chemistry needed to get the whole thing flowing properly.
There were, however, indubitably funny moments, and many of those came from the times mistakes were made – it’s a necessary part of the experience, and there were certainly some very witty recoveries, enjoyed by the audience as well as myself. It may be unclear whether an actor changing his accent three times within as many minutes is intentional (Irish, French, and American, for the curious), but that doesn’t make the variety any less entertaining. An anecdote into the definition of dogging towards the show’s denouement had me shaking with laughter, while a depiction of the show’s mother trying to work an iPhone (“How do you open a photo?”) proved one of the highlights. And occasionally there were strong dramatic performances peeking through it all, despite the absurdity of the subject matter: you can tell many of these actors are familiar with the stage, and it adds another dimension we wouldn’t always have.
70 minutes of improvised theatre is a massive undertaking, and for this House of Improv must be commended. The format of the show is clever and has an awful lot of potential, and I can’t help but feel that with an easier prompt on a different night it would all have been that much slicker. Add to this the fact that the troupe has less than a year’s worth of experience, and it’s clear great things are on the horizon – offering a Fresher’s improv workshop to potential newcomers is a brilliant and thoughtful touch, and I’m certainly looking forward to what they do in the future. There’s a definite sparkle beneath it all, but unfortunately tonight didn’t quite reach its promised heights.