Review: Murder She Didn’t Write, Leicester Square

You couldn’t make it up – oh wait, they do! Improvised murder mystery show Murder She Didn’t Write brightens up the last Sunday of the month at the Leicester Square Theatre.

“Who would choke the chickens?”

Fresh from sellout success at the Edinburgh Fringe, the folks of Degrees of Error are clearly hoping that their murder mystery show Murder She Didn’t Write will emulate the success of fellow improv stars Showstopper and Austentatious, both of which are now enjoying monthly residencies in the West End.

Murder She Didn’t Write’s London debut thus comes at the Leicester Square Theatre and on this hilarious evidence, you wouldn’t put it past them to follow in the footsteps up to Shaftesbury Avenue. Playing out like a cross between a live action game of Cluedo and pure stand-up – this is Poirot on laughing gas. Continue reading “Review: Murder She Didn’t Write, Leicester Square”

Review: Austentatious, Piccadilly

“I am nine and ten, NINE AND TEN”


It’s no secret that I do enjoy a bit of improv and alongside The Showstoppers, Austentatious are surely one of the most reliably entertaining and inventive of companies in the field. Regular readers will know that I’m a big fan, regularly attending their monthly residency at the Leicester Square Theatre and so I was delighted to find out that they’ve gone for an upgrade and for the next few months, you can find them in one of the grander houses of the West End at the Piccadilly Theatre.
If you’re new to the game, audiences get to suggest the title of a lost Jane Austen work like below
And our #topunusedtitle is the GCSE-set-text-tastic TO KILL A MOCKING DE BOURGH (and may we recommend its recently unearthed sequel, Go Set A Wickham) pic.twitter.com/8Qsu8sMrmd

— Austentatious (@AustenImpro) December 6, 2017

and once one is picked – tonight’s was We Need To Talk About Emma – the company of six (from a larger rotating crew of eight) set about creating an entirely new literary masterpiece from scratch, relying on nothing but the surreal swerves of their imagination. And without fail, they are simply hilarious. 
I could try and describe a plot that included strict fathers, thought-dead mothers, butterfly collecting, mannequin construction, and cat murder but it’s impossible to convey how sublimely silly it all gets. Watching the guys trying to keep it together during random dance breaks, or trying to out-pun each other (the Bruce Forsyth stuff was inspired), or just responding to what’s happening around them as, particularly when a leg broke off a chair, is endlessly good fun and what keeps me coming back time and again.
To suit its more august surroundings, a fold-out treasure box of a set has been constructed and the show has been extended with an interval inserted. And a rare scene featuring all six of them proved to be a real highlight as they all bounced off each other to gloriously funny effect, mercilessly trying to throw each other under the comedy bus. A well-deserved entry to the West End then, and well worth a trip in the coming months, to lift the winter gloom.
Running time: 2 hours (with interval)
Next performances: 23rd January, 13th January

Review: Graeme of Thrones, Charing Cross

“It’s going to be Hodorable…”

If you haven’t seen an episode of Game of Thrones, I’m not entirely why you would want to come and see a show that spoofs it lovingly if relentlessly. The blurb for Graeme of Thrones mentions it could be seen as “an introduction for the unenlightened” but let’s be frank, to expect a rapid-fire comedy show to catch you up on seven seasons of intricately plotted fantasy drama and enable you to get such puns as the one above is to make you as naive as, well, Ned Stark.
But for the initiated, there’s lots to enjoy in this madcap which rattle through an inordinate amount of material in its 90 minutes and still barely scratches the surface of the Seven Kingdoms. From its hilarious re-enactment of the opening credits to the arrival of actual dragons*, John-Luke Roberts, Nicola Lamont and Ross Spaine work overtime to take us from Westeros to Essos and back and cover as much of the plot as they can shoehorn in, along with jokes at many of the tropes it fully embraces.
And a fair amount of it is properly funny. The introduction of the Stark children (poor Rickon!), the shifts in perspective needed to bring Bran’s fall to life or to convince us of Tyrion’s height, Daenerys and Khal Drogo’s predilection for love duets… And when they really cut loose, it is hilarious, as in channeling the Lord of Light via some Berlin gay fetish dungeon, giving us a tableau vivant from the viewpoint of the boar that killed Robert Baratheon, and Sansa’s vivid journey to womenhood.
As with much comedy, there’s a variable hit-rate though, as here that mainly comes through the framing device of a theatre company pitching this show to potential investors, unable to keep their personal lives from bleeding through into the action. As necessary as these breaks are, to allow the performers a little breathing space and time to change costumes, the notion of Lloyd Webber or an HBO lawyer being in the audience is just not as funny as the amount of time it is given here.
But Graeme of Thrones isn’t the type of show to examine too closely. Programmed into the late slot at the Charing Cross (10pm starts means it is nearly 11.30pm when you’re done), you’re best off going with the flow, sinking a pint or three or however much it takes for you to giggle at the daftest of jokes, and preparing yourself for some potential light audience participation. Inventive and irreverent, it’s ideal late night entertainment.
Running time: 80 minutes (without interval)
Booking until 11th November
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Not-a-review: Austentatious, Leicester Square

I should find some other way to record these ongoing visits to Austentatious…tonight’s offering was Mad Mademoiselle Marion and the Magic Pony, good fun as ever but re-using a few elements I’ve seen them do before (which is a little understandable when we’re practically at stalking level now!).

Comedy Review: Adam Kay – Fingering A Minor On The Piano, Soho

“I’m like a medical Anne Frank”

The title of Fingering A Minor On The Piano apparently stems from former doctor turned comic Adam Kay trying to ensure that none of Nicholas Parsons’ audience stayed on to watch the show when the two were programmed back-to-back at Edinburgh last year. It gives nothing away about what the show actually is, a fast-paced hour of journal readings from Kay’s hospital diary interspersed with musical punchlines, building to a gut-punch of a climax that flies the flag for our beleaguered NHS.
It’s a strong combination – there’s endless dark humour in the snippets of life as a medical professional, climbing the ranks from inexperienced house officer to registrar in the field of obstetrics and gynaecology, as he deals with any number of complaints from eye-wincing penis injuries to spots on the tongue (taste buds!) whilst acknowledging the strains it puts on trainee doctors with their 16 hour days and the struggles it imposes on trying to maintain a normal life and relationship at the same time.
The increasingly sad array of missed dinner dates, Christmases and parties, alongside the infinite patience that comes with being part of the NHS, are balanced with his repurposed musical sketches which allows Kay to vary the mood as he works any condition you’ve heard of into pop songs (‘The Girl With Emphysema’, ‘Wheezy (like Sunday morning)’), ranging from the benign to the truly caustic, with some audience participation testing our own medical knowledge thrown in there for good measure.
But for all the laughter, it is the final moments of the show that linger longest in the memory. Kay stops trying to make us laugh or keep us entertained and instead relates the heart-breaking case that resulted in him abandoning his career as a doctor. It’s a scorchingly honest and emotional moment and one which gains more power as Kay turns his laser gaze onto Jeremy Hunt’s dishonourable behaviour around junior doctors and the government’s treatment of the NHS in general, making a mockery of claims that doctors are in it for the money and reminding us all just how precious a resource our NHS is. Fiercely effective, highly recommended.
Running time: 60 minutes (without interval)
Booking until 7th June

Review: Showstopper, Lyric

“You can’t let the pipes play you, you play the pipes”

After their residency at the Apollo, the Showstopper team have skipped along to the Lyric where they have been performing their brand of improvised musical on a random selection of Mondays, roughly every three weeks. If you’re new to their work, Showstopper is created anew on the night, suggestions garnered from the audience for the title and the various styles of musical theatre in which the songs will be improvised. And it is always extremely good fun and frequently hilarious, hence my multiple visits over the years.
This evening we saw Greece!, a tale of aspiring thespians, goats, mischievous demi-gods, mysterious rambling women and some impressive pipes, set at the base of Mount Olympus and other assorted ancient Greek venues. And musically we went from Gilbert and Sullivan to West Side Story to Andrew Lloyd Webber, though the highlights were the Hamilton-style love duet (big up to Andrew Pugsley and Pippa Evans) and a truly lovely Waitress-inspired number which although ostensibly a comic number about Dionysus, possessed a strikingly powerful musicality (led by the divine Ruth Bratt). The perfect way to liven up a Monday evening.
Running time: 90 minutes (with interval)
Future performances: Monday 15 May 7.30pm; Monday 5 June 7.30pm

Barely-a-review: Austentatious, Leicester Square Theatre

“Your heart is pure and your brain is good”


Where else would we spend Easter Sunday evening but at Austentatious for the last of their currently scheduled dates – more have been teased but the diary is still loomingly empty. Tonight saw the far-from-promising title Dingo Barry spun into random comic gold with Aussie accents, errant fathers, bonnet-dropping servants, old crones, and an impromptu knife and sword fight on the road to London.
Once their future dates have been confirmed, be sure to book in because these guys really are a hoot.

Review: Notflix, King’s Head

“Because everything’s better as a musical”

Between Austentatious and The Showstoppers, I’ve been thoroughly entertained (and consistently left in awe) by my dips into the world of improv so there’s always been a slight sense of trepidation about going further afield to see others do it, just in case they’re not as good! But the company to get me over myself were Waiting for the Call, the “original all-female long-form musical improv team”, and their promise of a unique blend of comedy, improv and musical group work.
Their show Notflix just played at the VAULT Festival and is following that up with a week at the King’s Head, ahead of a return to Edinburgh in the summer. And you can see why, as improv does carry with it a certain appeal to the festival market in its rapid-fire wit and scrappy energy and in that, WftC are certainly pitching themselves to the right places. 
Notflix is sparked by audience suggestions of the last film they watched, one of which is then selected to receive the musical improv treatment. The night I saw it, The First Wives Club and Batman vs Superman did battle and The First Wives Club won, and what we got was a surreal interpretation of the film (if there’s any weakness to the evening, I think it should be more explicit that the group are going to be riffing on the film in question) that jettisoned two of the wives and replaced them with a subplot about duelling window-cleaning brothers both called Doug.
Between diamond pacifiers, Squeegee4000s and pony memes, the wackier the storytelling got, the funnier it became, especially once the construction of a sex swing got started. And musically, the show got stronger as it made bolder choices about the musical styles it was aping, the Hamilton spoof was inspired and I could probably listen to Gemma-Marie Everest wocka-wocka-wocka all night long. There’s a palpable chemistry between the company, even though it rotates members, and a genuinely quickwittedness that was frequently laugh out loud funny (if I had to pick favourites, I think Aisling Groves-McKeown just edged it with her physical comedy skillz).
It is far too easy for me to say that the music and lyrics could occasionally have done with a bit more variation (relying a little too much on repetition). or that a couple of the performers need to work on their game faces (there was a moment where no-one seemed to want to take the lead), but that’s not to ignore how much fun Notflix was, or how much admiration I have for the exponents of this most enjoyable of artforms.