Criminal is a double-whammy – not only is it an improv show, it’s an improv show whose actors change every night. This takes one of the building blocks of the art – a cast who knows each other and can reasonably predict the others’ movements – and removes it entirely. Will this cause the show itself to collapse? The answer, based on the audience’s reactions at least, is a resounding “no”. In fact, Criminal takes this challenge in its stride, and creates a fantastic hour-long murder mystery with twists and turns that would satisfy even the most die-hard Christie fan.
The show begins with hosts Ralph Jones and Joel Gatehouse taking suggestions from the audience in regards to the details of the murder mystery. This setup is fairly routine in improv, but they add such a flair to it that the necessary procedure almost feels like an individual performance in and of itself.
And then the actual improv starts. Criminal‘s fun twist is that the actor chosen to be the “detective” – in this case, Tom Skelton – doesn’t know who the culprit is, while everyone else in the room does. This makes the performance amusing on two levels; one, because the entire cast has excellent comedic prowess anyway and two, because the detective has to try and actually solve the crime while the other actors guide them towards the correct conclusion.
Although Criminal certainly has very free-form approach (even in the context of improv!), this gives the actors ample autonomy to twist the initial suggestions as they see fit. The occasional slip-up is addressed in such a humorous manner that it doesn’t detract from the experience at all – this is especially evident during the finale, when the detective has to reveal who dunnit. Even though Skelton doesn’t get it right initially, the cast ad-libs so effectively that they get the biggest laugh of the night as he guesses each actor in turn, finally landing on the least likely murderer: the elderly mother (played by the excellent Luke Kempner).
Unfortunately, like so many good things, Criminal was short and sweet – it’s finished its run at the 2018 Fringe. However, their other upcoming gigs and podcasts can be checked out here.