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An Improvised Musical
Published on Saturday, 29 August 2009

No Shoes Theatre are not the only improvised musical theatre group in Edinburgh this year - the other being Showstopper!, and I've had the pleasure of reviewing both in the last couple of days. Each adopts a different approach, but each face the same potential pitfalls - and adding music to the improvised genre only makes it more fraught with danger. The biggest worry for any such show is a flat audience; if the seats are empty or if the crowd is not getting into the swing of things, then you are heading into a world of boredom.

Fortunately, with the Fringe no stranger to having any genre improvised, there seems no shortage of quite brilliant ideas from the stalls. Indeed, I suspect many punters hunt out improv shows just to see their ideas become reality. So it was, after a quick brainstorming session, I was presented with a musical set around a cheese factory, with a hit song I Saw Jesus In My Toilet from the show Memorabilia (my suggestion - just because I'm reviewing doesn't mean I can't join in the fun).

And the musical was enjoyable. Although the truly ingenious lines were few and far between, there were enough jokes to keep a smile on my face throughout. The lyrics were quite clever, too, with the cast finding rhymes for most types of cheeses.

Tellingly, the group did not take any audience suggestions for music and theatre styles - though they did take a rather risky decision to ask people to supply the props. I tend not to bring many amusing items with me into a show, and from the collection of things they acquired, it seemed I was no different to anyone else. Presumably anyone who's been before will know to come prepared with something quite bizarre, but maybe it would be better to bring along a selection of wacky items for the audience to choose. Fortunately, given the hit song name, they did find a pocket Bible, which led to an impressively-improvised story based around the Feeding of the Five Thousand with cheese.

The only problem was that I always felt I was watching a student production; it just lacked that edge a professional improv group would have. This feeling came through in the level of singing and acting, and there were few too many times when a character stuttered and failed to ad lib a line well. Partly, this is down to the challenge the group have set themselves: with no conferring allowed between the cast - even when not in a scene they sat at the side of the stage and laughed along with the audience - there were times when they were visibly not quite reading from the same page.

What the format lacked most of all though, was a host to stop a scene and move on if things start to drag. They were at their strongest, as are most improv groups, when performing something totally random - and they needed a bit more than two flash cards in the audience to trigger a move to the next idea.

All in all, there's a lot to commend in An Improvised Musical, and it's a daring experiment to apply such a pure form of improv to such a complicated genre. Fans of improv will admire it greatly - but I'm left feeling that, if they allowed themselves to "cheat" just very slightly, a general audience might enjoy the show still more.

FringeGuru has taken the unusual step of re-issuing this review after identifying an error in our editorial process. We apologize to No Shoes Theatre for our earlier mistake.

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