Improvised comedy is a difficult art to master. Unlike stand up, improv players can’t use test audiences to edit and hone a set; they have one shot at it and the results tend to fall into two categories – hilarious or a disaster with not much in between. Happily Paul Merton’s Impro Chums are firmly in the former category.
If you’ve been to improv comedy before you’ll recognize many of the games played here, including one word story, improvised Shakespeare and freeze tag - all led, of course, by suggestions shouted out and written down by the audience. The players approach the games with vim and vigour, clearly having a great time bouncing about the stage in the style of film noir, vaudeville and western. There is rarely a dull moment and the audience laugh from start to finish at the cheeky chums’ antics.
It was a lovely touch to throw little bits of music into the mix; it added another dimension and a little variety to the performance. Richard Vranch displayed his enviable ability to improvise both witty one liners and perfect scene setting piano ditties while Suki Webster broke into the occasional song, including a rather lovely, suitably hammy jazz duet with Mike McShane. It all makes for a very entertaining and uplifting hour.
One minor criticism must be made: a couple of scenes went on a touch too long when it was apparent they’d lost momentum. This temporarily slowed the otherwise electric pace of the show down and caused a tiny lapse in energy; cutting them a little earlier would keep the show fluid.
Overall this is a fantastic, entertaining hour full of energy in which the chums and the audience enjoy themselves immensely. They are masters of the tricky art of improvisation and their lightning fast wit fuelled by intelligence and a great sense of fun will leave you with a laughter-induced stitch and a spring in your step.