The Improverts are Edinburgh University Theatre Company’s improvised comedy troupe that have been performing at Bedlam Theatre for over twenty-five years. One of the oldest student improv groups in the country they have an established reputation both within the city and in the broader comedic community. They perform every Friday at 22.30 during the university term and also during the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
With the tagline ‘Always Different, Always Funny’ the Improverts have set the bar high for themselves. Giving that improvisation, as a rule, should be different as it is material working off audience suggestions the funny bit is the more difficult part to achieve. However generally the Imps manage. It is clear all the players have a sense of humour and are individually funny – the task is for them as a group to ensure that they are coherent and work together well to deliver a short sketch that is funny for the audience. Giving that it is improvised it is easy to appreciate the magnitude of this task – they are constantly having to respond to what one of the other players has said or chosen to do. The rotating aspect of the Improverts (the players change each Friday) means that it is harder for them to settle into a rhythm perhaps forcing them to ensure each show is different. It could be argued though that the changing players means that it takes a while at the beginning of each show for the players that night to relax and start to work well together. The first couple of games come across as testing the water and getting a feel for each other, which although is fine, it is nice if they remember to work the audience as well as getting settled onto stage.
The evening works by running through a number of games, each slightly different, with varying success. It is easy to gauge the opinion of the audience for each game – cheering from the often drunk crowd indicates it was enjoyed, a slight silence or chatter suggests it wasn’t as well received. With their trademark slap signalling the end of the game The Imps are attuned enough to their audience to generally know when a game isn’t suiting a particular audience well and they need to move along. A couple of the games I have to say could be done with some revision – Alien Interview, for example, has a slight issue with being very repetitive (hilarious the first time you see it, for a returning audience member it is difficult to see it as different and I found it quite tired and low in energy). However, Party Quirks, a new game to me, was a great addition and although possibly a bit long and dragged out in the show I saw it was a change to some of their more instantly funny games: it demanded more attention and engagement from the audience and was rewarded with more attention as a result. There are a number of classic games that are always going to be funny and work well on stage but a few could be revisited and adapted to ensure they bring energy to the stage which unfortunately this Halloween show was lacking a little.
The players themselves were charismatic. Lorna Treen introduced the show and the players before explaining the first game they were going to play. A little shaky to start, she quickly charmed the audience with her various characters and ear for a pun. The other four players – Caz Elms, Jodie Mitchell, Will Hughes and James Strahan – joined Lorna on stage for the first game and the Imps began, accompanied throughout the show by their fantastic, and also improvising, technical crew. Jodie, director of the Imps, stood out from the start, she clearly has a lot of experience with comedy and quickly sussed out the characters and jokes that would go down with that particular crowd. The five worked well as a group, providing each other with opportunities to take the sketches in different directions and being open to any paths. As mentioned before the energy was a little low at times and could have benefited from perhaps a player with a lot of enthusiasm on stage. The small audience also weren’t the most helpful in terms of suggestions for games and didn’t provide the Imps with much to work with. A larger audience would have given them some energy to work with. They also overran slightly on time and generally the show felt like if it was tightened a little bit it could have flowed through the games a little smoother and been a little funnier all round.
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