Do Not Adjust Your Stage

Do Not Adjust Your Stage is an interesting concept. The small audience is placed in front of a 'TV' - the stage - over which there is little control. Perhaps the dog chewed up the remote, it’s not clear, but we're trapped here for the next hour so we may as well just watch as the TV spontaneously flicks from soap to documentary to gameshow. After a few audience-inspired and fictional news stories, the audience gets to shout out the subject for each genre: in our showing, we saw a soap about toys, a documentary about sea dragons and a gameshow about bathtubs. Every time the channel changes the TV's voice, 'Our Graham', needs some applause to get us to the next channel, meaning at the end of each scene we all clap away and the actors feel good: a sweet trick.

As we flick through, we see three segments of each show, with cliffhangers built into the soap, shocking revelations in the documentary and raised stakes in the gameshow. The comedy was best when it was at its most carefree and surreal. The ominous sea dragons were described as racist, homophobic, electrified criminal masterminds who caused a blight on peace-time Europe by insulting people about their doomed peace treaties and useless EU agreements. This sketch was the most fun because the actors seemed to lose themselves in it and used errors to their advantage, especially the actor who had forgotten how to sit down. The song at the end of the documentary was a bit of a mess but the strength of the sketch made this irrelevant: they were all having fun.

The soap about toys was bizarre and far weaker: due to a lack of cheap plastic, a toy factory unable to produce new toys planned to steal a Barbie doll from a young boy in order to melt it down, turn it into a Lego Barbie and sell it back at a profit. Meanwhile a school had decided to replace all its teaching with uninterrupted play just as the great toy shortage began. It was a silly, light-hearted scenario but often actors interrupted each other, appearing uncomfortable or unused to one another on stage and the rushed denouement didn't really see the two strands of the tale connect, although it seemed they had been intended to. At its end it was still getting some laughs but, no matter how many opportunities they made for themselves, the storyline in this performance felt like one mistake past saving.

The gameshow host's obvious favouritism for one contestant was an amusing running joke, though this sketch appeared to be an easy ride for the trio in it. Anything can happen in improv and it may well be that quality varies from show to show. A subject the actors can get their teeth into might produce far more good than the rather limp suggestion of 'toys'. After all, there were strong performances here: some were quick-thinking, accent-literate actors with a mind for top-notch, off the wall directions for their sketches. There's no denying that this group is charming, but there were several moments when this show fell down either with embarrassing pauses or actors tripping over one another to take the sketches in their own opposing directions. This broke the improv magic and these performers need the time to become more in tune with one another. Until then, I'll be avoiding this channel.

Reviews by Larry Bartleet

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The Blurb

Ever wanted to be the Director General of your own television network? Join us as we improvise a bespoke TV schedule based on your suggestions! A fast-paced comedy improv show that puts you in control!