Review: Of ICE and Men

Of ICE and Men

Corpus Playroom, Mon 30th Jan, 9.30pm


At the risk of provoking disbelieving sniggers from those that know me, I'd like to think my tastes aren't entirely unsophisticated (*pause for scoffing and protesting from my friends who have accompanied me to Mahal and Cindies on more occasions than is healthy*). However, at the Corpus Playroom on Monday night I found myself giggling at bogey and toilet jokes as the Improv Comedy Ents team took to the stage once again. But this is the thing about ICE: their sense of fun and enjoyment, and their reliance on audience suggestions, means they can raise a laugh from pretty much anything.

Compere Dan Addis led the group – and the audience – through a series of games, many of which were based on recognisable concepts from shows such as Who's Line is it Anyway? and Mock the Week, for example ‘Party Quirks' and ‘Scenes from a Hat'. This does display the riskiness of improv, as unlike in Mock the Week, they can't shoot hours of material to be edited – if it's not funny, it flops. For the most part however, this didn't happen. The topics thrown out by the audience ranged from the amusing and witty to the crude to the downright bizarre, but on the whole the group produced accomplished comedy with whatever was thrown at them. True, there were times when the laughs didn't come, and these moments tended to drag: a scene featuring flower-stealing pirates, for example, fell rather flat. Similarly, while another featuring toilet-cleaning in the ‘Slow-Motion Olympics' combined some successful elements of physical comedy from Donna Kitching and Theo Estrin, and commentary from Dan Addis and Jed Rose, it felt protracted beyond its comic potential. Perhaps at times they were limited by the lack of inspiration amongst the small audience and the kind of atmosphere which the Corpus Playroom provides.

Yet on the whole we were kept laughing. ICE's strength lies in its sense of fun and enjoyment of their craft, and in the relationship between the different members of the troupe: unlike more formally-structured sketch shows, when corpsing is avoided (if not always successfully…) it's a treat to see them laughing at each other's jokes. Kitching's inclusion of "improve your miming" to her fellow performers in the middle of a scene added a sense of personality which can be lost in a more polished and practised comedy routine.

So it's clear that this is a talented bunch, and each member brings their own particular slant on their comedy: Michael Conterio's face is one of the most expressive I've seen, showcased brilliantly in the ‘Sign Language' game, while Jed Rose brought much imagination to the improv, and was sadly underused. Dan Addis carried the show with his charm and enthusiasm; he was the ideal compere, knowing when to stop the more unsuccessful skits and visibly enjoying his colleagues' performances as well as his own. It was a shame that some of the witticisms of Theo Estrin – and at times Michael Conterio also – were not transmitted as well as they could have been due to poor delivery.

My reservation about the show (and the reason that I've reluctantly opted for the mediocrity of a 3* review) is that I couldn't help but feel that I'd seen it all before – which, in a show based on improvisation, is a problem. There is no doubt that ICE are good at what they do, but what they do doesn't vary much from show to show. It was an accomplished and entertaining performance, but lacked sparks of originality which sadly leaves them behind some other comedy acts in Cambridge.

Laura Peatman

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