Note: This review is from the 2018 Fringe

Paul Merton and his Chums are back with the show that continues to set the bar for all lovers of improv.

Whilst Merton’s name is the obvious crowd-puller, this is definitely a team effort. Merton is joined by Mike McShane, an original from the days of Whose Line is it Anyway?, Richard Vranch, Lee Simpson and Suki Webster. All of these “chums” are outstanding comics in their own right, and each member of the team is given the opportunity to shine. This group has been working together for years, and their obvious familiarity and instinctive rapport make the sketches seem effortless.

Employing a good dose of variety, the improv flows smoothly, amply showcasing the troupe’s imagination and versatility. Frequent input is sought from the audience and sheer absurdity is vigorously encouraged. However, there’s no chance of catching these professionals out, even with the most surreal of situations. For example, a quick fire sketch involving Genghis Khan and a kiwi fruit is performed without a whisker of hesitation.

A couple of scenes are so polished that they beg the question whether there is some element of preparation around certain themes, but this in no way detracts from the ongoing comedy. The ingenuity is remarkable. Perhaps the cleverest and “purest” improv scene involves Merton having to guess something truly, truly bizarre from clues acted out by the other Chums. No chance there of any forward planning.

The hilarity is continuous and it’s delightful to see the Chums enjoying it as much as the audience and genuinely making each other laugh. The spontaneity and ephemeral quality of improv is akin to snapchat – every performance is totally unique, and this serves to heighten the experience. Go and see the true maestros at work.