I’ve been lucky enough to attend several improv festivals, most recently the Hoopla Marathon. I was very excited to be able to attend the Improv All-Dayer at the Patrick Kavanagh pub in Birmingham.
Ben Hall and the Fat Penguin team had clearly done their research as the teams they had invited to perform did not disappoint.
I’ll give a quick run down of the shows that I managed to see:
Sadly, I couldn’t catch Coventry Improv or The Old Bill, but the attendees I talked to were buzzing as they came downstairs during the break.
I arrived just in time to catch Discount Comedy Checkout (from Leeds), who soon had us entertained with their short form games such as Pitch It, where we saw snippets of made up games according to an audience member’s initials. One of the made-up games, Joker Kitten, was very funny as it captured the audience’s attention with the sheer ridiculous imagery.
Togglebox a version of Pan Left or Revolver explored the secret life of pillows and Shrek’s Storytime among other made up programmes. I thought that the team showed great teamwork and clearly knew each other’s strengths. I also very much enjoyed some of the characterisation and physicality of the performers.
My favourite game was Film and Theatre styles. Playing to an audience of mostly creative types, the GCSE drama piece had us all crying with laughter. The Pathe news was an excellent suggestion (I’m saving that to shout out for a show!). I was impressed by the speed and wit of the team.
Freeze tag felt just a little slow with only 3 performers, but overall, I thought their set was really well performed. Make sure you catch them if you are ever up in Leeds.
Stealing the Show are a team I have seen on several occasions and they didn’t let us down. All excellent improvisers, they very quickly established the settings of two competing bookshops through seemingly simple (but very well delivered) scene painting and great characterisation.
Again, the audience was right on board when Mike very quickly brought up the idea of the hipster shop selling the concept of books. I really liked the edits which have developed to become even more slick over the times I have seen the group perform.
Sean and Catherine played a couple of rappers, charged with performing the break in. The rapping was outstanding and served as a brilliant contrast to the scenes in the bookshops.
This team clearly enjoy playing together and they seemed to be having as much fun as we were, which always makes for an excellent audience experience.
Up the Antics from Bristol were up next and they slickly set up a series of characters involved in a house move. I enjoyed the flashbacks to pad out the back stories of the main characters. I particularly liked the scenes with the rick kid daughter and her parents as she continually complained that they were just so supportive and giving her everything.
My favourite group of the day (and tbh every group was excellent) were Mind Meld. Taking the suggestion of banana moustache from a game of mind meld, they immediately launched into a ridiculous, yet strangely touching at times (and I don’t mean the top lip stroking at the beginning), story. Every player supported the whole team, whether by providing the soundtrack, sharp editing, or just pimping fellow members to the point of corpsing. This team clearly enjoy each other’s company and had such a joyful attitude to their performance that we all felt part of the fun.
I highly recommend you catch them soon.
Talking of joyful teams – well there is joyful and there is Long Boi and the Noise. The fabulous paring of Charlie and Joe in the guise of a Big Improv Party, but performing some pretty fabulous improv scenes.
They are both highly talented and able to take the audience suggestions (picked from a bucket that was held on the heads of audience members whist the audience threw their paper at them!) and weave them into thoroughly entertaining scenes.
To close the night, we had Jazz Police – a team made up of some of the best teachers and coaches from Bristol.
I loved the organic openings. In my experience, they are usually quite short constating of maybe one or two different group actions, but Jazz Police continued over several swarms to generate a raft of ideas to populate their scenes. Again, characters were very strong, and ideas were milked for full entertainment value. The edits between beats were organic and provided plenty of energy.
The expertise of these performers shone through and again it was clear that they are a team used to working with each other and who are clearly in the same page with each other. I really enjoyed their performance and will be aiming to catch them again as soon as possible.
So that was it.
The overall theme that I felt running through the day was the sheer joy of performing with others, which made the whole day a really great experience. It was great to see groups of excellent performers who really did have each other’s backs and were having just as good as, if not better than, time as the audience.
If you are lucky enough to have any of these teams come to perform in your area, then I recommend you go along and see for yourself. Or get them booked up to perform.
Events like this take an awful lot of organisation so thanks to Ben Hall and the Fat Penguin Improv crew and the staff at the Patrick Kavanagh. I hope that this is the first of many.