Clive Anderson begins with a jovial introduction touching on the remarkable history of Whose Line Is It Anyway? in its various forms as well as political jokes about – what else? – Brexit and Trump. It’s a decent warm up and as well as Anderson himself, the familiar red backdrop, four stools, and MC’s desk stage right make it feel like we’re in a giant 3D TV set. Our musician for the night is introduced – the fantastically talented Kirsty Newton – before our four improv comics appear. Tonight’s lineup comprises: Stephen Frost, Ruth Bratt, Tony Slattery, and Ian Coppinger and, as the audience surely understands, we’re here for an hour of improv games with the help of some crowd shout-outs.
One of the first rounds offers a nice tribute to some other Fringe acts, using the names of a couple of other shows as inspiration for genre movie interpretations. Tonight’s tributes are Girls Scouts vs. Aliens and Neighbourhood Watch. The game goes well, particularly when Bratt creates some Shakespearean rhyming couplets that are pretty impressive, and Newton’s fantastic instrumental backdrops help set the tone for each new genre announced by Anderson. The familiar ‘unusual party guests’ game is good fun, although the secret roles are perhaps played rather obviously (Coppinger’s dog-who-can-talk impression resorts to some barking sounds after thirty seconds) so not much guessing is really required on Slattery’s part. Proceedings pick up during an audience serenade section, and again, it’s Pratt who stands out here, as her Adele-style ballad for a stag night groom-to-be gets some of the biggest laughs of the night.
The audience generally seem thrilled just to be here and to see the recognisable stars in the flesh. The actual quality of the comedy is a little disappointing at times, though. Most scenes are pretty patchy – even for improv – and often end in performers talking over one another, mumbling their way towards meandering punchlines and corpsing a few times too many.
Pratt is definitely the highlight of this particular performance – especially in the musical games where her voice, wit, and versatility are showcased. Much of the rest of the show, however, is funny, but never side-splitting, and is too often prone to awkward moments and jokes that don’t quite get there.