Celebrity impression shows have a Marmite-esque quality: whether they are a hit or a failure depends largely on their consumer and there is rarely an 'in between'. They rely on an audience’s shared knowledge and ability to recognise an impersonation in order to work at all, and without this mutual understanding they fall completely flat. Unlike other shows where audiences might laugh along appreciably, in an impressions show, when stuck with a poor or unrecognisable likeness, a crowd is left completely cold.
The pair have an immense talent for capturing nuances of celebrities
Fortunately well-known comedy names Ronni Ancona and Lewis MacLeod's new Fringe show, Just Checking In, was stuffed full of remarkably accurate impersonations of figures as diverse as Jeremy Clarkson and Olivia Colman. Nevertheless, the overall conceit of the show and the variety available left something to be desired and my attention wandered during the 60 minute show as the same impressions were recycled again and again and the (admittedly deliberately) vague plot became increasingly irrelevant and ultimately completely fell apart.
Fans of Radio 4’s Dead Ringers and similar impression shows will no doubt be suitably entertained by Ancona and MacLeod, and the pair have an immense talent for capturing nuances of celebrities from Robert de Niro to Audrey Hepburn. In this semi-play, staged with the two of them in all-black on a pared-back stage with only two chairs, they place their characters in a once-grand Scottish hotel which Donald Trump has decided to buy. The loose story is expanded upon by constant zany asides, for example Boris Johnson retelling Cinderella for no reason at all, with Ancona and MacLeod feeding in self-referential lines to make clear that any plot is secondary to their desire to show off their skills as impressionists.
This begs the question, therefore, of why they included a plot at all. They tread an odd centre ground between the absurd and the mainstream: clearly worrying a little too much about sticking to the script for the show to feel fresh, and yet also attempting to constantly poke fun at themselves and their whole show. Going further in either direction would have made all the difference to mainlining what the show was actually doing. Also difficult to quantify within the framework of the show were the characters which were not celebrity impressions. Although in witty asides Ancona and MacLeod acknowledge the one-dimensional nature of these characters, as well as most of their impressions, I could not help but feel that for the majority of the audience the biggest joke in these moments came simply from seeing someone do a funny voice.
Ultimately, Ancona and MacLeod provided an entertaining hour with many laugh-out-loud moments - Ancona’s Melania Trump is a truly wonderfully wacky take on the woman - but overall the impressions themselves were marred by the bigger jokes of the plot falling a little flat. However, if you’re not fussed about that stuff and simply want to have a laugh at some recognisable voices and enjoy some silliness, then you could do far worse.