'Who are you here for?' asks the Assembly ticket-tearer as he works his way through the sizeable queue. The answer showed little variation: Given the absolute mania Doctor Who inspires - and, indeed, Sherlock - what hope did the Frank Skinner fan base ever stand against the Stephen Moffat army?
Such imbalance might seem a flaw in the 'Ad-Lib' format. Promising 'surprising conversation' between the nation's 'most creative minds' and 'the sharpest comedians in showbiz', 'Ad-Lib' combines voices that might not otherwise be heard in tandem. With a demand for one voice so much greater than that for the other, you might assume that the format would crumble. Moffat certainly seemed to hope so. Luckily, however, Skinner lived up to his role as a 'sharp comedian'. This, combined with the unpredictable nature of the 'ad-lib' element, prevented the show from dissolving into a Moffat adoration fest. Indeed, what did emerge turned out to be even more interesting than what I assume 'Ad-Lib' had originally envisaged.
In the place of the (slightly limp-sounding) promised 'surprising conversation', the Skinner and Moffat edition of this show treated us to some surprising antagonism. As a huge Doctor Who fan - an interest which saw him miss his son's first steps - Skinner ostensibly presented no threat to Moffat's empire. Yet Skinner's sin - aside from being witty, boyish and impossible to dishearten - lay in his audacity: Moffat couldn't bear the fact that Skinner dared to express some criticisms (otherwise known as opinions) about Doctor Who. Chatty observations about his dislike of 'sex' in the programme were met with a mixture of disdain and defensiveness. Moffat took on a 'who the hell is this guy?' sort of tone.
This led to the beginning of a bizarre battle of wits. When Skinner told a self-deprecating anecdote about meeting Prince Charles, Moffat attempted to better it with a self-congratulatory anecdote about meeting Prince Charles. The 'Whovian approval' in the room meant that for many, nothing Moffat can do or say could be wrong. Skinner was well aware of this, remarking at one point, 'I'm aware that every time I speak, the crowd is saying, "let Stephen speak". But fuck you.’ The energy in the room made for great entertainment.
Every Ad-Lib event will of course vary, but it wasn't just the antagonism that made this a good show. The format itself is very effective. Audiences often have more questions than there's time for and while this was the case in this instance, Ad-Lib dedicates a considerably greater amount of time to audience questions than your usual spoken word event. This ensures that we really do get a chance to witness the speakers' off-the-cuff persona throughout the show. It's a great opportunity for fans - or for anyone looking for a break from the otherwise often very polished word of Fringe comedy.