Paul Merton's Impro Chums

Paul Merton, Suki Webster, Richard Vranch, Lee Simpson, Mike McShane
Crewe Lyceum Theatre

Paul Merton's Impro Chums

On leaving the wonderful Crewe Lyceum Theatre, sides still literally aching, one question kept returning to the mind, have we just witnessed the purest and funniest form of comedy?

What had been created on the stage for 2 hours of mind-bending mirth surpassed anything I have seen before and, crucially, none of it will ever be seen again. The genuine one-off nature is the true beauty of this unforgettable evening.

Everyone who had flocked to the venue tonight knew only too well what Paul Merton is capable of; we have witnessed it regularly on TV for years. However, each of his ‘chums’ took turns to spontaneously bring the house down with some of the most surreal, yet irresistible humour it is actually not possible to imagine.

Getting the evening going with a quick-fire comic ‘excuse me’, the ‘chums’ each took turns to shout “freeze” and re-direct a narrative about Sherlock Holmes and a cheese grater. We were also treated to a sequence where Merton had to work out a bizarre scenario based on clues provided in terms by the rest of the team.

The ‘Impro Chums’, Suki Webster, Lee Simpson, Richard Vranch and Mike McShane, are quite simply superb at what they do and are all equally capable of ensuring the audience are soon in convulsions. The spontaneity of the show is obviously a prerequisite but the obvious pleasure all the performers take at the various directions each of them leads the performance is a joy in itself.

Other highlights from the first half of the show include Webster and McShane leading the two halves of the audience in a panto-style sing-along about a medical examination which was a result of an alien infestation. Also, Merton hilariously translated while Simpson, allegedly speaking Andorran, related the tale of his brother held captive in a cellar.

The second half started with suggestions from the audience which saw themes such as life on the tour bus, a size GG hat, a school inspection and two men taking rubbish to the tip brilliantly turned into instant gold. There was a brilliant sketch about a vicar who forgets the name of the bride and the instant musical showstopper that Mike McShane delivered about a Chihuahua eating a banana split in a hot air balloon had to be seen to be believed.

The show climaxed with an unbelievable pastiche, 'A Midsummer Night’s Bream', where each of these outstanding performers instantly assumed the role of ludicrous yet delightfully authentic Shakespearean characters.

I laughed so much I thought at one point my last sight on Earth would be McShane sitting imperiously as a King, waxing lyrical in perfect Shakespeare about an imaginary fish flapping at his feet, while Lee Simpson adopted the guise of a Geordie to trick the Princess into marrying him. Utter comedy genius.

It is very hard trying to describe something that only those who were present will ever see, and yet that is also the true beauty of this outstanding experience. It is truly a one-off experience and a genuine shared experience between audience and performers.

Scripted comedy will always provide moments of perfection, but, after seeing the true brilliance of improvisation by these masters of the art, I’m not sure if any other form of comedy will come close for me.

Reviewer: Dave Jennings