It’s difficult to review an improv show without reviewing the genre as a whole. Reliably hit-and-miss, a group of people roaming through sketches or songs in search of a punchline is glorious when it comes off, and not much better than awkward when it doesn’t. So to enjoy any improv, bring along your childlike imagination and moderate your expectations, and you’re good to go.
MissImp are the improvised comedy theatre of Nottingham, who perform across Nottingham and beyond. They performed in the Nottingham Playhouse’s Neville Studio, a rooftop venue with a feeling of familiarity for anyone acquainted with the Edinburgh Fringe. On this particular evening the Playhouse was in a state of low-key chaos, with flooding causing the lights in the theatre to go out and the show in the main auditorium to be cancelled. Not to be deterred, the MissImps went ahead, and a team of ushers with torches guiding the audience up the darkened stairs contributed to the evening’s spontaneous feel. Everything was truly being made up as you went along.
“It is not certain that this format was an improvement on the classic ‘audience suggestion’ formula”
The show itself was split into two halves, each with a different improv troup. The first half was the Vox Pops, a group who took real life stories from a guest monologist and turned them into sketches. The format was a little odd. It was never entirely clear why this person was chosen and his anecdotes, while frequently fairly engaging, were not particularly on the comedic side. This often threatened to drag the momentum out of the performance, with each group of sketches feeling like it was going from a standing start. While definitely a different take on improv to what is frequently seen, it is not certain that this format was an improvement on the classic ‘audience suggestion’ formula. Perhaps a hybrid form, based on audience anecdotes, would make the best of both worlds.
“It was often funny, on occasion awkward and sometimes hilarious”
To review the improv again delves into the danger area of reviewing the medium as a whole. It was often funny, on occasion awkward and sometimes hilarious. The occasional talking over each other showed that they were perhaps not quite on the same wavelength at all times, but it did not derail the show and if anything added to the unpolished charm. Memorable moments included the intervention for a woman throwing Pokemon cards like ninja stars, and a long exploration of the sexuality of clowns. All in all, a strong improv showing.
“45 minutes of witty dialogue, strong characters and some hilarious and infuriatingly catchy songs”
The second half brought us Rhymes Against Humanity, an improvised musical based on a title provided by the audience. Tonight’s musical was titled ‘Mother’s Ruin: The Gin Wars Story’. At first, there was slight confusion as RAH launched into a musical about Ofstead inspections in a school, with the only link to the title being that every character was holding a glass of gin. However as the story unfolded, the plot climaxed at a drunken school disco, although oddly focused around absinthe rather than gin.
Once you went with the direction of the story, what RAH brought the audience was 45 minutes of witty dialogue, strong characters (special mention for Val, the barmaid from the school staffroom) and some hilarious and infuriatingly catchy songs. Highlights included ‘Love is a Crab’, a heart-rendering account of the ways love resembles the most recognisable crustacean, and ‘Fuck Children’, a wonderfully composed song combining the fury of one character’s hatred of kids, with another character’s discomfort at the potentially problematic song title.
If you get the chance to see MissImp, they perform regularly across Nottingham, and provide an experience rarely found outside London or the Edinburgh Fringe. Improv certainly isn’t for everyone, but if it is something that you enjoy, MissImp provide a charmingly unpolished dose.
Image Courtesy of Nottingham Playhouse Webpage.