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Alcock Improv
Written by Craig Thomson   
Published on Tuesday, 05 August 2008

STEPHEN FRY, HUGH LAURIE, Emma Thompson and Tony Slattery (what happened to him?) won the Perrier award in the year I was born.  They were here as the Cambridge Footlights – and the terms "Edinburgh Fringe" and "student show" have gone together ever since.  The near-obligatory run at the Fringe is both a formative experience and a rite of passage for new young talent in comedy and theatre.  And happily The Alcock Players, also from Cambridge and back for their second year, are confident, competent and just downright funny enough to make the grade.

Their improvised comedy is fast-paced – sketches seldom wear out their welcome, as they so often do in improv shows – and features a large, but never uncomfortable, amount of audience participation.  Though the Saturday afternoon crowd I was with didn’t quite fill the C-SoCo studio, there were ample suggestions for the performers to riff off.

In addition to the usual suspects familiar from Whose Line Is It Anyway? – calling out conversation topics and film styles, for instance – their brilliant final sketch was fresh, well-judged and well-delivered.  Picking a victim from the audience, they acted out her day... in the style, per the left-field shouted-out suggestion, of Brief Encounter.  Despite some initial confusion with Close Encounters of the Third Kind, at least two of the cast knew the difference and launched enthusiastically into a ripe melodrama featuring cereal, a wrap, underwear, and fights over eyeliner.

The Alcock Improv ensemble was suitably chaotic for the Fringe (one of their number had an unfortunate sore throat, another was late) and they clearly worked well together.  Inevitably, some of the performers are stronger than others, but there were no weak links, just a couple of stand-outs.

I’m slightly cynical about student shows generally; but based either on ability or on Oxbridge ballsiness, these guys are practically professionals.  There's no telling if they'll reach the heights of Fry and Laurie, but I certainly hope to see more from this talented cast in the future.  Their early-afternoon slot is an ideal start to the day, but catch them while you can – they’re only on until August 12.

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