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Fringe 2006 Reviews (13)

Paul Merton's Impro Chums
Pleasance Courtyard
*****

Anyone who has ever see Whose Line Is It Anyway? on television or the Comedy Store Players on stage will know the format of this kind of show. Suggestions are taken from the audience, both on slips of paper handed in before the start and from things shouted out during the show. The performers then create short scenes, speeches or jokes from these suggestions on the spot without any preparation and try to make the audience laugh.

The line-up for this show is similar to two years ago: Jim Sweeney, Richard Vranch (who also improvises the music on keyboard), Lee Simpson and Suki Webster, plus, of course, Paul Merton. There are also some special guest improvisers lined up, and on the first show the guest was Comedy Store Players regular and TV star Josie Lawrence. The show consists of a set sequence of scenes which use information supplied by the audience and are then created and performed by the cast. When it works, it is very impressive and very funny - when it doesn't it can still be funny if the performers deal with it well.

These are all very experienced improvisers who deal with pretty much anything that is thrown at them, by the audience or - which is often worse - by the other improvisers. They deliberately block, drop one another into difficult situations and make each other laugh during scenes, but it is all part of the style of the show and is all good-natured and funny. And this show is very funny indeed, at times getting a large, sold-out audience all rocking with laughter in unison.

There are a growing number of shows in Edinburgh that claim to use improvisation, but if you want to see some of the top performers in Britain in this style of comedy, you should definitely try to get a ticket for this show.

David Chadderton

Cooped
By Cal McCrystal and Spymonkey
Assembly Rooms
****

Cooped is really good fun. It is a highly professional piece of physical theatre and clowning, as one would expect from a show that has been touring for five years. It also uses the best of corny special effects to create stormy nights and animal-infested country houses.

The plot is simply silly. We are welcomed into a luxurious mansion set, designed by Lucy Bradridge, creaking and collapsing to fit in with the drama. There, in a deliciously over-acted spoof, a murder mystery is played out by the charming Spymonkey.

Sweet orphan Laura Dulay (Petra Massey) is welcomed to his home by suave, handsome Forbes Murdstone (Toby Park) and his uppity butler Klaus (Stephan Kreiss). This unorthodox household then receives an assortment of visitors including solicitor Roger Parchment (Aitor Basari) who inexplicably has a Spanish accent.

Tongues never leave cheeks as the innocent ingenue suffers a series of strange dreams and finds that real life, with its rich mix of incest, murder and identical twins, is very little easier to make sense of.

Using both verbal and physical comedy, this spoof makes few wrong moves as it consistently amuses and allows the team to show off their extraordinary skills. In particular, Miss Massey has the useful ability to imitate a mannequin to perfection and Mr Kreiss the longest of tongues.

There will be few more professionally produced shows on the Fringe this year. Go and see it.

Philip Fisher

Levelland
By Rich Hall
Assembly Rooms
***

It was very strange reviewing Levelland immediately after Sam Shepard's True West. Comedian Rich Hall's first play is, at its best, something that could easily have been peopled by San S's characteristic mid-American misfits.

Hall plays radio Shock Jock, Wayman Tisdale, a Texan who literally lives in his studio. The world has gone bad as an oil crisis means that the USA is in turmoil. This is reflected by panicked calls to the show, mainly from loopy listeners.

Worse is to come for Tisdale, energetically played by the writer. He gets three visitors who turn his cosy, little world upside down.

The first arrival is neurotic young Scrope (Rory Keenan). He wants airtime to explain that he is one of God's chosen. He is hardly unique as there are 144,000 of them out there somewhere.

Scrope also believes that he is being chased by killers and this proves to be the case. His talent for sniffing out oil may not be genuine but is a potential money-maker either way.

David Calvitto, rushing across from Midnight Cowboy to play Demitri, represents the nice side of petty crime, while Mike Wilmot's Guffy is better with violence.

Levelland is a satire on contemporary America that makes some very sharp observations about the way that we live today and suggests that Rich Hall could have a successful second career as a playwright.

Guy Masterson directs well but might have suggested that Hall cut some of the longer speeches to a size at which they do not hamper the flow.

Philip Fisher

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©Peter Lathan 2006