‘The Improvised Panto!’ (City Nightclub: 9-13 Dec ’13)

“Few styles of performance are so ripe for lampooning; and with a vast canon of familiar characters to draw from, the potential for capering hijinks is huge”

Editorial Rating: Unrated

An improvised panto is an inspired idea. Few styles of performance are so ripe for lampooning; and with a vast canon of familiar characters to draw from, the potential for capering hijinks is huge. Edinburgh-based Impro FX give it a good shot with this gutsy performance, but their hook just isn’t quite strong enough to hang onto.

The trouble with reviewing improv is that it’s different every night, and this particular performance was… well, probably not Impro FX’s strongest. The oddball tale of a visionary Moroccan takeaway driver never fully came together, and the occasional songs (accompanied by pianist Dan McGurty) involved just a bit too much repetition. It must be said the audience’s suggestions didn’t give them a huge amount to work from; it might have helped to throw out examples of the kinds of riffs they were looking for, instead of asking the crowd to come up with creative ideas from a standing start.

And, an improvised panto? Oh no, it isn’t. To be fair, there was a passable horse, and the magisterial Charlie Hindley proved an alarmingly credible dame. But a pair of false breasts does not a panto make; there was no badly-written innuendo, very little call and response, no pastiche of minor celebrities from Forth One. At times, it seemed that Impro FX had dropped back to a more familiar style of improv, and forgotten that they were meant to be staging a pantomime at all.

Cast as the mandatory talking animal, Steve Worsley duly grinned like the Cheshire Cat right through the performance, and his engaging warmth went a long way towards smoothing over the inevitable rough edges of the plot. Harry Gooch doubled up to play both hero and arch-villain, with deliciously farcical results in the last couple of scenes, while a selfless Will Naameh held the whole thing together – just about – as a pleasingly queeny princess.

So the stock characters are all there; but to take their concept further, Impro FX might play a bit more to our childish delight in the genre. The emergence of that pantomime horse, for example, could be built up into a much-anticipated moment of nostalgia, rather than just an ironic nod. And they need to call on their audience more – shamelessly and clearly – demanding our cheers and our comedy hisses! Because, while we know the catchphrases we’re supposed to shout out, amidst the chaos of an improv show we need some help understanding just when we’re meant to say them.

Reviewer: Richard Stamp (Seen 10 December)