Turns out long-form improv is pretty difficult …
Ah, one of my favourite rooms at the Fringe – the Counting House ballroom. Big enough for a sense of occasion, small enough for a cracking atmos. At 12.45 each day there is improv courtesy of Free Association, with three different groups sharing the run. DVD Box Set were the troupe I saw, seven-headed and comprising members from both sides of the Atlantic.
As the name suggests, this is long-form improv, with one story spun out over nearly an hour, and springing off just a one-word suggestion from the audience. The short review of the DVD Box Set that I saw is: good in the micro, bad in the macro.
As the cast repeatedly mentioned towards the end of the show, the long-form aspect was pretty disastrous. The word donated by the audience was “upside-down” – a pretty good leg-up, I thought –and an initial situation was set-up, of a scientist’s laboratory where all the equipment has been built upside-down. But that was the last we heard of any of that. Too many different strands were begun, too many digressions chased. I was wondering how they would bring it back to a core story and the given theme, before I realised that it wasn’t going to happen. The structural demands of long-form improv mean that one eye must always be on the broader direction of travel, and that’s what Austentatious and Showstoppers! do so brilliantly, and that’s what was missing.
But having said that, I don’t think anybody in the room could say they didn’t enjoy the show. The minute-to-minute improv skills of DVD Box Set – even as they got lost in a tangle of storylines about pirates and bored office workers – were strong enough to keep the show afloat. There were good lines, timely interventions, great pace and charismatic cast members, and it was enjoyable to watch.
One interesting device was to have two of the members act as a couple watching the show, with him being enthusiastic about the “series” having watched it before, and her being cynical about it and picking holes. This brought some laughs as she got to criticise her colleagues’ shortfalls, and verbalise the audience’s own thoughts. The trouble was, when like today the story failed, it really hammers home any failures. Also, improv demands a high degree of suspension of disbelief, and stopping to describe what’s happening can puncture that, by highlighting all the cracks that we’ve quite happily papered over in our minds. It’s letting light in upon magic. So that device has to be really carefully handled.
While I suspect DVD Box Set normally tends to work better than this, on the occasion I attended it was a below par performance.
Review by Paul Fleckney