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As of late there has been an increasing number of acts hopping onto the improvised performance wagon at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, to the extent that you might start to flinch at the amount of well rehearsed spontaneity you can find around just about every corner. There’s improvised trials (Instant Order: Trial By Audience), an improvised Newsnight (Marcus Brigstocke Presents Unavailable For Comment) and naturally, improvised performances of Jane Austen classics (Austentatious). So with more people than ever making a living out of making things up, where do The Improsarios, an improv group from London that have been performing since 2008, fit in?
I watched The Improsarios at an Edinburgh preview show in London rather than their main show at the Fringe but, as with all improvised shows, it shouldn’t really matter where you see them – every show is supposed to be completely different from the next anyway. The gimmick here is that the audience comes up with a one-word title and the group then perform three very different short plays based around that word. For us the word was “Danger” – something you’d think any self-respecting improviser should be able to make an interesting hour out of (I really wished they’d picked a more sadistic audience member’s suggestion of “Chicken”).
Indeed the first playlet was full of danger, as a man met with the kidnapper of his wife and found out that the kidnapper wasn’t quite as unfamiliar as he first seemed. Our second slice of surprise didn’t work quite as well as the actors struggled to find a main dramatic issue to focus on – was it a sister’s admission she was being hit by her partner or the fact that a pair of siblings’ parents and family life were falling apart?
It was telling that the final play that really showed off the actors’ skills and clear experience in working with each other was also the most comedic one of the night. Whilst elements of the first two mini scenes were involving in their own way, I still feel improv works best as it was conjured up all those years ago on TV in Whose Line Is It Anyway?, with witty off-the cuff and often absurd moments that a script writer would never have thought of. That’s not to say that serious drama doesn’t have its place with improvisation, but it’s a much more difficult beast to get right – the skill becomes less in thinking of something ridiculous than of something realistic, which there are already plenty examples of in Edinburgh without the element of surprise. Saying all that The Improsarios should be applauded for their decision to not just take another improv comedy vehicle to the Fringe, and there are glimmers of something really special at the heart of what I witnessed in a basement in Dalston – I just wish that they sprinkled a few more gags here and there to pacify my inner Clive Anderson fan.