There are a fair number of improvised comedies this year, but Degrees of Error’s
Laughs coming thick and fast, and the clear popularity of this show is no doubt deserved.
More than many similar shows, the audience are given godlike power over the narrative: we decide the occasion that brings the suspects together; a suspicious item that will crack open the case; and one of us secretly chooses the murderer and the victim. The cast are remarkably game to running with our daft ideas: today the setting was “a bouncy castle party,” and the actors showed impressive athleticism with their consistent (though sometimes reluctant) bouncing, milking the ridiculous premise for all it was worth.
The characters are the kind of colourful bunch that could be drawn straight from the pages of an Agatha Christie novel, and in a nice touch they all have chromatic surnames like the Cluedo characters. Tom Bridges was on top form tonight as Bob Orange, a Byronic explorer who seduces women with the promise of adventures down the M4 corridor. Elizabeth Skrzypiec was good value from the start, and shines as eccentric birthday girl and lover of bouncy castles Esmerelda Violet-Orange. The nine-strong cast alternate on different nights, and I’ve heard that some audience members happily return for a second showing to enjoy a completely different murder mystery experience.
There were some surprisingly sharp one-liners and hilarious visual gags (a lightly bouncing corpse was comedy gold), but structurally the show threatened to become a bit tedious. Some of the opening scenes felt a little too drawn out, and the frequent flashbacks that came later seemed to stifle the cast’s creativity, confining them within a rigid structure. When the action did start to become a bit samey, the actors thankfully had a knack for inserting a fantastically improbable situation to keep things interesting.
The motives for murder also seemed fairly run-of-the-mill compared with the enjoyably farcical humour – three of the suspects were embroiled in affairs while the fourth had a vague childhood grudge against the victim. Stephen Clement’s detective, faced with making sense of the hilarious and slightly messy action in order to identify the killer, couldn’t bring things to a satisfying denouement despite a very impressive effort involving fantastic leaps of logic. Obviously we can’t expect Degrees of Error to improvise an Inspector Morse novel, but sometimes it felt like they were falling back on murder mystery clichés rather than parodying them.
Saying this, you’re unlikely to look at the narrative too closely with the laughs coming thick and fast, and the clear popularity of this show is no doubt deserved. Degrees of Error’s remarkable talent for making the audience’s bizarre ideas even weirder than they initially seem means you can easily forgive the relatively lightweight mystery in this frequently hilarious drama.