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Off The Cuff present: Cuff TV
Published on Thursday, 13 May 2010

As I was leaving Upstairs at Three And Ten and pondering my review of this show, an overheard snatch of conversation as good as did the job for me.  “They were nervous at the beginning, weren’t they?” asked a woman of her companion.  “Much better later on,” agreed the man, before they headed off into the night.

I’ll start by declaring an interest.  I have an official soft spot for improv troupe Off The Cuff, who last year gave me the most memorably enjoyable night of the Fringe in an unpretentious basement over in Brunswick.  I’d come to this show with a mix of enthusiasm and trepidation: enthusiasm at another chance to see their work, but trepidation about whether the low-key treat I remembered would translate to this higher-profile venue.
Alas, the opening sketches fell pretty flat – quite possibly because they tried too hard.  A sequence where a pair of warring directors ruined a film became especially abstruse and baroque, and (oddly for an improv show) did little to bring the audience in.  The “Cuff TV” theme, which linked each improv game to a television show, was a neat idea – and the projected “title sequences” between each of the acts were well-made and creative.  But they took some energy away; they were a diverting intervention which forced a pause, often right at the moment you wanted the humour to barrel on.

The turn-around came with a cleverly-designed parody of TV news, which crammed a pair of complementary games into a single routine.  The eyewitnesses to the bizarre incident the audience invented included a bombastic pirate, an army general, and Steven Hawking; it sounds impossible on the page, but it all worked out effortlessly at the time.  Meanwhile at the side of the stage, the two newscasters gossiped away with convincing cattiness.  At last, the game was afoot.

From then on, it was like I’d remembered.  Another strong sketch themed on The Bill saw a hapless actor in a holding cell trying to work out the nature of his crime.  We’d picked the murder of Bertie Bassett, which didn’t sound too hard to guess – but through either ignorance or artifice, he proved completely unable to make the final leap.  The sketch got funnier and funnier as his two interrogators dropped progressively more outrageous hints, and the final revelation triggered a dam-burst of pent-up applause.

Off The Cuff seem at their best when they’re most relaxed, and some of the funniest moments of the night came as pure asides.  I’m not convinced the “Cuff TV” format’s right for them – and I fear it may take a little more time to recapture the easy intimacy of last year’s show.  But I have faith; I’m looking forward to seeing them in Edinburgh this August, and it’s well worth catching them here before they make the journey north.

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These are archived reviews of shows from Brighton 2010.  We keep our archives online as a courtesy to performers, and for readers who'd like to research previous years' reviews.