Paul Merton and his “Impro Chums”: Mike McShane, Lee Simpson, Richard Vranch and Suki Webster, have been practising short form improvised comedy for decades and bring their combined centuries of experience to create a new, never-before-seen show on the spot. Sketches, songs, skits and gags cover anything and everything the audience can throw at them and are spun almost effortlessly into a hilarious and dazzlingly impressive evening.
Paul Merton’s Impro Chums is an exhibition in passion and unfettered enjoyment. It has all the polish of a scripted performance with the added jeopardy of it being co-created as you watch.
Whilst the prospect of creating something on the spot in front of a paying audience seems risky and can strike fear into the heart of many, the Impro Chums seem safer than ever when they’re left to their own devices. This is a very tight-knit, incredibly talented group who clearly understand each other’s processes very well but can also surprise each other (and often themselves) even after all this time. Particularly astonishing was their production of Shakespeare’s latest work, ‘King Lairy’ which saw the troupe creating a fully formed and concluded plot complete with rhyming couplets and poetry Shakespeare himself would have found entertaining.
It is the synergy of the group that is so delightful, that somehow the Impro Chums together are greater than the sum of their parts, this is something a lot of short form improvisation groups tend to struggle with as one or two performers will inevitably outshine the others. Their shared success is at its most evident during one game in which Merton was required to guess what his occupation was – nothing so simple as a builder or policeman but instead he is a man who retrieves geostationary satellites through the means of modelling (specifically) double-stitch knitwear. The audience had settled in for a long night as they’d wait for Merton to finally figure it out but the group managed to drop enough hints for Merton that he guessed his occupation word-for-word within fifteen minutes. Not just funny, but absurdly clever, too.
Equally inspiring was the sheer joy expressed onstage by all performers throughout. They love their jobs and indulge in every single moment of their performance. Paul Merton’s Impro Chums is an exhibition in passion and unfettered enjoyment. It has all the polish of a scripted performance with the added jeopardy of it being co-created as you watch.
Rarely do you find improvised comedy that could pass as devised and pre-rehearsed but this fresh and thrilling production gets very, very close and must be seen to be believed.