Fringe Comedy

Lorraine Wilson

Paul Merton’s Impro Chums


four stars

Absolute Improv!

theSpace on Niddry St

three stars

Baby Wants Candy

Assembly George Square Studio

three stars

“OOOH, isn’t he tall?” How this lady, impressed by Paul Merton’s physical stature, could judge that two rows from the back of the rather cavernous 750-seater venue was impressive.

However, if you excuse the pun, he is indeed a giant of comedy, and improvisation in particular. The king of quick thinking has once again gathered his impressive chums for a short run of shows - Mike McShane, Lee Simpson, Richard Vranch, who those of Whose Line Is It Anyway? vintage will recall as the man behind the piano, and the lone woman in the troupe, Suki Webster.

Day to day, the show will change of course, based on audience suggestions, but the format is familiar with games and skits allowing the flights of fancy.

The star quality of Merton is the reason this large venue is packed. He respects and gently ridicules impro almost in equal measure. Downplaying a form that is generally overly theatrical gives it an edge.

It was slightly horrifying to have a suggestion that was dashed off in a few seconds in the queue picked out of the bucket and fully realised, but in the end gardening tips from Martians on trampolines worked out pretty well.

There clear affection among this group, however, that means that it’s far from a star vehicle for the man on the poster.

Run ends August 21

OVER IN a much smaller venue, a group of improvisers half the age of Merton’s chums are also exercising their rapid comedy responses. The format is the same, the games and skits are similar, but in the hands of younger performers it looks like a much more jaded format.

The troupe, four men and one woman (again) are all talented actors and singers. After a slow start they warm up and start to use the square studio space much more effectively.

The suggestions are all shouted out here and many discarded in favour of something that often appears to be the easiest option.

With improvisation the energy needs to stay high, so one game that used the suggestions of two young girls invited into the scene (they were keen, almost pirouetted on) was overlong and needed the skills of the performers rather than the participants.

If improvisation is to survive and develop it’s in the hands of the next generation to avoid treading the same imaginary shark-filled waters.

Run ends August 27

INITIALLY the most striking thing about the Baby Wants Candy show is the age of the audience. These are young people, late teens and early 20s, giving major jazz hands as the band plays the sell-out audience into one of the large studios at Assembly.

The terminology “Fringe institution” can be a double-edged sword. Guaranteed audiences perhaps, but does it mean the format can never develop?

Baby Wants Candy is a fully improvised musical. The four-man band is joined on stage by a troupe of seven. Five men and two women. What is it with improvisation that women are outnumbered across the board? Is it the comic potential of men having to play women?

If so, it was tested tonight as the suggestion taken from the audience for a musical was One Bride for Seven Brothers. Cue miming of swinging breasts and handbags on knees.

The comedy is broad but the format dictates that, with the best performance from Chris Grace who showed some versatility in characterisation.

It’s big blowsy and sometimes bawdy musical theatre, slightly labored by the end.

The crowd is on its feet, but it does feel like a thesp-heavy audience who can clearly appreciate the skills required to get through the hour.

Run ends August 28