Ignite Festival: Comedy Improvisation
Performed by Improperly at the Coffee Cellar, on the 5th & 6th June.
When given the opportunity to watch an improvised comedy group as part of the Ignite Festival I jumped at the chance. Being a devoted fan of ‘Whose Line is it Anyway?’ and ‘Mock The Week’ I knew what I was getting myself in for.
Exeter’s improvisational comedy group ‘Improperly’ put on a superb rendition of the masterful and difficult art. Improperly’s performances are solely fixed on improvised sketches with characters, situations and locations all being spontaneously given to them by the audience on the night. As with all improvised comedy there is a huge risk: if it is funny, it can be absolutely hilarious, but if it wavers it can tragically fall into an uncomfortable few minutes on stage for both performers and the audience.
It is hard to comment on just one evening with Improperly as their show inevitably changes every night, however the fixed structures that stabilize the show are inviting to watch and the variety of them retains the audience’s interest throughout.
Improperly’s first sequence of improvised scenes revolved around including lines from pieces of paper handed to them by the audience before the show with the performers required to fit in theses lines or quotes into the improvised scene. This section was very comical and perhaps the highlight of the evening, although I personally felt they peaked too early with later sections not matching their opening act.
Another section involved characters going to a bar and speaking (and later singing) to the barmen about a problem they had – their problem being given to them by the audience. One scene involved a character going in to the bar to complain about her piles; this was very comical and I felt this was due to the simplicity and comedic potential of the problem, plus the fact that the word ‘piles’ easily rhymes and is therefore perfect for singing about.
An evening with Improperly is certainly enjoyable, but the audience’s participation is vital. The suggestions given by the audience can make the scenes much more entertaining and give the performers much more room to play around with. For instance, an audience member’s limited suggestion for a song about ‘legless French frogs’ ended up leaving the audience uneasy. Whereas a simple suggestion for a scene between ‘a pilot and an airhostess’, which is much more open and accessible, went on to be a highlight of the evening.
I was however disappointed that many of the improvised songs throughout the night were accompanied by a rather uncomfortably syncopated electric guitar rhythm, which had amplifier effects added to it which drowned out some of the performers. I found myself diverting my attention away from the comedy and towards the ‘musician’ – and not for the right reason.
There was a clear impromptu vibe on stage and the pace and wit of the performers allowed the performance to be upbeat, entertaining and comical throughout. There is no doubt that their genre is perhaps amongst the most difficult to perform, but Improperly certainly displayed unity as a company and diversity amongst the characters they portrayed. They are accomplished performers in their field, but are also blessed with being genuinely funny people. Having only been running for the 16 months, Improperly are certainly an up-and-coming comedy company to look out for in Exeter.
Ricky Freelove, Arts Editor
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