Word:Play

Mon 13th – Sat 18th August 2012

reviews

Anwen Jones

at 09:57 on 16th Aug 2012

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When one gentleman from the audience suggested the sentence ‘one fine day with a woof and a purr…’ for the beginning of Only Humour’s improvisation evening performance, I honestly felt a little worried for the actors waiting behind the stage. Having watched 'Whose Line Is It Anyway?' countless times (literally countless, DAVE always has it on repeat) I was well aware of the difficulties in pulling off improvisation, but also the hilarity and magic that is created when a success.

Lights go down, the curtain moves, on steps – or rather crawls – two characters, and I sit with baited breath praying (no idea to whom), for the sake of the narrator and the actors on stage, that things go well… There was no need.

As each scene ends, the narrator asks for another detail from the audience and soon a rather bizarre but hilarious plot is being shaped involving a mad scientist, his two twisted servants E and Gor (a clever resolution of expecting one so-called servant but finding it was two for the price of one) and a talking cat and dog. I soon forgot my earlier anxieties and begin to be engulfed by the oddity and sheer quick-witted skill of the actors on stage in front of me. I am laughing, gasping, puzzling and laughing again throughout the whole sketch. The following play called 'Radish' (another suggestion from the audience - it seemed we had a rather creative bunch in that night) did exactly the same as the actors allowed themselves to be driven by instinct, fast thinking and each other’s ideas.

Indeed, the way in which the plot was created by each and every person on stage demonstrated the professional way Only Humour rely and listen to one another whilst acting – a trait that is absolutely necessary in successful improvisation. The whole cast were obviously incredibly talented and - most noticeably - fun actors, willing to take risks and throw metaphorical improv grenades into the plot to see what would happen next. However, there were certainly some individuals that stuck out at this particular performance – Dan Titmuss’ rather posh and aggressive character of Mr Tomlinson, head chef at the Radishon (he named it) restaurant and his now blind, scarily high-pitched and disturbed wife (Tom Bloom) worked excellently together, warranting a number of uncontrollably outbursts from the audience. Lizzy Skrzypiec’s character, with her insane skills at creating cheesecakes and Wispa bars out of only radishes, was original, hilarious and, oddly enough, believable.

Certainly at times the action seemed to drag slightly when the scene or characters lost some momentum, but this happened rarely and is somewhat acceptable as they are working on the spot, with no script, no idea what the next person is going to say, and no way of knowing where on earth the plot is going to run to. In addition, Only Humour’s excessive amount of energy, enthusiasm and obvious love for what they are creating is simply infectious, making it incredibly tempting to overlook the small minor errors that may sometimes occur.

In short, 'Word:Play' was a truly enjoyable show and I left with a new-found admiration for improvisational actors. Not only are they incredibly skilled, they are fun, clever and, admittedly, insanely cool. It makes you want to get up stage and join in. If you don’t see this then you are missing out. Who would’ve thought that radishes could be so funny?

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Lucinda Higgie

at 10:36 on 16th Aug 2012

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Except for fearing that audience participation would feature, I didn't really know what to expect from 'Word:Play'. The little I know about improvisation has been gleaned from watching a few episodes of 'Whose Line Is It Anyway?' and 'Thank God You're Here'. I guessed that this would be a similar kettle of fish, albeit on a larger, more sustained scale. Indeed, instead of multiple shorter sketches, the show comprises one short play and one longer one, both of which are triggered by suggestions from the audience. The reasons for the popularity of improvisation at the Fringe become quickly apparent. Whilst the performers' ability to come out with a great line off the cuff was impressive, watching people who quite clearly have no idea what they're doing next and who try to bluff their way around this fact, often not very successfully and narrowly avoiding corpsing in the process is extremely amusing: at one point, one of the actors mishears 'gloves' for 'glass', runs with it, then tries to cover up the mistake. At another, a character explains that 'I gotta lay off the drugs' after making an error. I was less thrilled by the continuation of one long improvisation in favour of multiple, shorter ones. Perhaps sustained improv sketches are an acquired taste or maybe I need to lengthen my attention span, but I felt as if in getting stuck with a single idea both sketches ran out of steam and got slightly tedious towards the end.

The opening play, which stemmed from the sentence 'one fine day with a woof and a purr', was made notable by Dan Titmuss' mime of one half of a mutant dog-cat, but otherwise it wasn't particularly original. In 'Radish', the longer play, Lizzy Skrzypiec was brilliantly quick-witted as the talented sous chef who can make fish dishes, spaghetti bolognese and vanilla cheesecake out of radishes; her and Dan Titmuss formed a fabulous double act, the humour derived from their focus on their roles and the fact that they seemed less motivated by eliciting a laugh than some of the rest of the cast members. Tom Bloom's performance as the long-suffering wife, who doesn't particularly mind being blinded by her husband, is also worth a mention: the introduction of this character rescued the play, which was beginning to sag. I think that these three performers used the opportunity which 'radish' proposed (that's a sentence I doubt I'll write again) whereas the rest of the cast were less adept on this occasion. However, that is, I imagine the nature of improvisation. It is easy to get lumbered with a character you can't do much with, and I'm sure other performers will get a chance to shine on other nights.

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