BattleActs! - Free

With so much improvised comedy around, every group needs a USP. Musical, Murder Mystery, Silent Film; anything to differentiate in a genre where you can hardly sell the script. For BattleActs!, the selling-point is antagonism. Four performers are split by their compere into two furiously competitive teams, and the audience - divided down the aisle of Maggie’s Chamber (The Free Sisters) - are urged to lend entirely partisan support to their pair of champions. That’s the idea. In reality, as with topical panel shows, the element of competition is entirely nominal and the point-scoring arbitrary at most. The splitting of the crowd seems like little more than an extended version of the hackneyed MC’s trick to elicit applause at the start of a show. There’s nothing wrong with any of this, but it does mean that Battle Acts remains a relatively standard improv show, reliant entirely on the quality of its games and the invention of its performers.

Once the audience settled into a rhythm, however, their freedom to interfere became very enjoyable

In both respects the show stands up well. The games are not particularly original, although the audience is handed an unusual amount of control. This seemed problematic for ‘story-story-die’ in which performers are ‘killed’ when they fail to to continue an ad-lib narrative quickly or smoothly enough, as rogue elements in the audience killed all the performers very quickly and with little reason: a good example of an area in which the compere ought to exercise rather more control.

Once the audience settled into a rhythm, however, their freedom to interfere became very enjoyable, especially in the game ‘new choice’, in which the performers are forced to alter their aims and reactions as often as the audience likes. This led to some hilarious developments, the performers demonstrating an excellent sense of timing and comic progression, using the rhythm of their speech to regulate audience interruption and exercise some subtle control. This was absolutely the highlight of the evening, and while the other games were perfectly enjoyable they never hit quite the same high note. No discredit to the performers, who maintained consistent energy throughout.

One way in which Battle Acts differs from some other improv shows is in its timeslot. As a post-watershed show, there is none of the requirement to remain family-friendly which restricts some other troupes. Consequently, the compere - a dark-haired, confrontational man - took the opportunity to swear freely at his audience. He did this rather awkwardly, however, and it contributed little to the humour of the evening. Since obscene improv is rarely funny and as there was none on display in any case, such verbal aggression seemed rather out of place. He seemed, in general, a few steps behind his team, unable to match their energy or even to exercise as much control as they did.

These are relatively minor complaints. Ultimately, Battle Acts is a solid improv hour, and good for a free show. Even if it does still lack a USP.

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The Blurb

BattleActs! is an award-winning, multi-five star late-night comedy party show that has performed to rave reviews around the country. Independent Top 10, StageWon Editor's Award. ‘Superior improvised comedy… thank god for BattleActs!’ ( ‘Rapidly en route to becoming something of a cult classic, one of the most entertaining late night acts.’ ( ‘Extraordinary improv, kitsch, cool and unpretentious... wit and ingenuity that’s nothing short of admirable.’ ( ‘Intelligence…sheer energy. You might just have to fight the crowds as the troupe become ever more popular’ (StageWon).