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Lights, Camera, Improvise!
Written by Richard Stamp   
Published on Monday, 22 November 2010

4 starsLondon: New Diorama Theatre, Triton Street, off Euston Road
Until December 19, Sundays only, 8:00pm (9:00pm)

A night in the company of a movie-loving nerd, who owns any DVD you can imagine and talks his way through them all?  Don’t panic: far from a vision of social hell, it’s the well-thought-out set-up for a cracking comedy show.  It’s all the work of improvisers the Scat Pack, who invite us to commission our very own screenplay… then put it into production, live before our eyes.

The trouble with reviewing improv, of course, is that it’s different from day to day – and that so much depends on the quality of the audience’s ideas.  Happily, on the night I attended, those sitting around me were in fine creative form.  We demanded a crime thriller called Till Dutch Do Us Part (an everyday story of Low Country folk with a sinister murder at its core), and the eight-strong ensemble proved more than capable of scripting an entertaining story round that theme.  But as with all improvised comedy, it’s the random riffs which offered the most fun: the deceased psychic cat, the improbable rhymes for “Holland”, the man who emoted his actorly heart out despite being cast as a windmill.

At the side of the stage sits our blokey host Oscar, lounging by his DVD player and hogging an imaginary remote control.  He’s poised to cue up a string of witty gimmicks which, though predictable, are no less enjoyable for that; think jerky rewinds, frenetic fast-forwards and improbable freeze-frames, all acted out at a moment’s notice by the on-stage crew.  Affable and amiable, Oscar’s mockery of his fellow performers’ stranger flights of fancy also carried a particular charm.

But there’s a huge, trumpeting elephant in the corner of this living room, and it has the word Showstopper! emblazoned on its side.  However hard I try, the parallels with the cult-hit improvised musical are impossible to ignore; the host of Lights, Camera, Improvise pulls all the same tricks as Showstopper’s director, interrupting the action whenever it flags and guiding the plot-line’s twists and turns.  With that in mind, I query the wisdom of the song-and-dance numbers which peppered the act; they weren’t bad, but they weren’t the strongest suit, and they inevitably invite a comparison which isn’t all that flattering to the Lights, Camera crew.

It doesn’t have to be that way: with the whole of Hollywood to draw from and a Winnebago-full of creativity on display, this show has plenty of room to find a unique voice and style.  But in the meantime, I can confirm that the Scat Pack triumphantly achieve the one thing all comedy sets out to do… for I started laughing at the moment Oscar first stood up, and didn’t stop until the final credits rolled.

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About This Author

Richard Stamp

Co-founder of FringeGuru and self-confessed Festival addict, Richard Stamp came to Edinburgh on a six-month assignment and never quite got round to moving back.  In his ten years enjoying theatre in the city, he's been chased by ghosts, abducted by the army and watched Macbeth on a motorbike.  He denies sleeping with a Fringe programme under his pillow.

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