Note: This review is from the 2019 Fringe

Criminal is an improvised murder mystery featuring different performers each night.  Joel Gatehouse takes suggestions from the audience and we discover that the body of Yann Silver has been uncovered in a Tesco in the home counties.  There is a pre-chosen detective, on this occasion played by Thom Tuck of The Penny Dreadfuls comedy troupe, who is tasked with solving the crime.

In order for this to be effective, there clearly has to be a strong central performer who can at least attempt to keep track of the nominal details, thus preventing the entire premise from becoming unmoored.  Tuck is the most experienced actor in the group, but is let down by lack of recent experience in improv.

There are some high points: Sophie Duker deepens her voice (as much as she can) to portray the Machiavellian CEO, makes some interesting choices and interacts well with Sally Hodgkiss.  Meanwhile, Freddie Clayton is refreshingly dedicated to portraying the grieving wife and elicits the most laughs on the night, despite being the least experienced performer.

Unfortunately, Tuck fails to ensure that the ensemble develop a shared intention or group mind. Therefore, it is left to the considerable improv experience of Sally Hodgkiss, playing the cynical supermarket employee and the shadowy character in the staff room, to provide jokes for the narrative.  She does this with ease and, at times, you feel everything would be better if she was in charge.

This is long-form narrative based improvisation and, as such, requires a modicum of character building and an ability to remember names and events. Failure to do so defeats the purpose of improvising a story for the bulk of an hour. Tuck announces at the show’s climax that he must leave as he has to commence another show, which makes his lamentably distracted efforts more understandable.  As the run continues, a focus on more balanced combinations with committed improvisers and an emphasis on long-form expertise would produce more enjoyable results.