Smile and Nod are a sunny, engaging college improv group from California, whose show California Beach Bungalow is confident, slick and imaginative. All they need from their audience are a few words before they get going. They end up taking around ten over the hour of this performance, a random selection including wallet, cholera, gerbil and space.
Their brand of improv is long-form: the sketches pan out along the lines of one suggested word until a cast member who's not in that scene decides that enough's enough and a new sketch is begun. It's a clever style that ensures nothing drags too much. The cast allow a few moments for a sketch to get going and once past its introductory phase it blossoms until it reaches a peak. At this point what they call a 'shark edit' takes place to end the scene. It's a bit like a drive-by, but with a hand raised, fin-like; I can't help thinking that it would be a useful technique in boring conversations too.
The actors are comfortable on stage and with each other. It's obvious that they've been performing together for some time: the way they tag each other to come on and off stage during scenes is professional but also reveals a healthy level of trust, which is crucial to the success of improv comedy. More than this, it's clear that they're friends and during the best sketches it feels more like they're goofing around for their own amusement than performing to a crowd.
Of course, not all of the sketches are great. Some brilliant ones involving a hedonistic Texas governor and a drunk pilot's past with his air traffic controller are in contrast to a few shorter sketches which take too long to get started and don't quite reach the same heights, but these moments are always short-lived because the remaining cast is always on the lookout for moments to make sketches more interesting. This group is a cut above average improv at the Fringe; their dynamic show is well worth a look.