Alcock Improv

Oliver Soden 15 February 2010

ADC Theatre


Every bit as quick, clever, and entertaining as the sadly discontinued improvisation show Whose Line is it Anyway – with a wonderful dash of the ‘silly things to do’ that Humphrey Lyttelton used to give his teams in I’m Sorry Haven’t a Clue – the quintet that dashed through this madcap extempore hour would have been mistaken as professionals by any that didn’t know them to be current undergraduates. Indeed, were they pitched against ISIHAC and the like in the schedules, they’d more than hold their own.

They were, quite simply, phenomenal. Entering slightly sceptically at the potential for hit-and-miss in the format and wondering whether I didn’t prefer scripted comedy, I emerged an absolute convert. The wit and invention is so clever, the pacing and structure so tight, that a transcription of the proceedings would have required shockingly little tinkering to emerge highly polished and performable.

Josh Higgott, capturing perfectly the deadpan delivery that made Humphrey Lyttelton so special and discarding perfectly the wetness that made (and makes) Clive Anderson so pathetic, presides over regulars Katy Bulmer, Chloe MacKenzie, and Patrick Walshe McBride (with special guest James Walker). And he gives them – with some relish – ‘silly things to do’. And what clever silliness it is. The very nature of improvisation means that most of the laughs are garnered from the comedy of Absurdity: applying logic to illogical situations. The absurd non-sequiturs of wildly working imaginations are treated as normal occurrences. If a particular scenario is that of a damaged seal-loather, applying for a job to work with seals, then – naturally – said applicant is shunted to a particular department that allows the therapeutic practice of bludgeoning seals to death with a hammer. However the quicksilver minds of the performers ensure that the merely bizarre is never relied upon to garner laughs.

All suggestions for the sketches are shouted out by the audience, though cleverly filleted by Higgott: the night I saw it resulted in, amongst other things, a five-act lunar drama of betrayal, an interview with an emotional Azerbaijani and, my own favourite, a dialogue between Bulmer and Walshe McBride set in an aquarium. With Bulmer improvising but Walshe McBride’s lines plucked exclusively from a work of John Peel’s, it confirmed that when these two really got going the result was something really rather special.

It was astonishing how rarely a line or an idea fell dead. I cannot praise enough the energy, the bravery, and the skill, indeed the intelligence that must be necessary to mould such perfectly-wrought comedy at such speed.

The ADC is not the place for them and in time, of course, it won’t be: they are anything but amateur.

Oliver Soden