Tartan Tabletop: The Neverending Quest is not your average improv show. It is a Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) quest that mixes improvisation with the game of role play and pre-determined outcomes, all of which are reliant on the roll of the dice and the player’s stats.
Other improv shows have a kind of a compere to make sure the story moves along. The Dungeon Master (Josh Aitken) - or DM - is Tartan Tabletop’s equivalent, except for a couple of differences. Aitken is more involved in the show itself, as in addition to narration he takes on the roles of minor characters as well as make the cast use a 20-sided dice to undertake the occasional stat check which affects the story, soem of which appear to be random and other more on a whim. He often questions the other players' decisions, almost indicating the sheer ludicrousness of some of the routes they decide to take. He ensures that the show progresses and that the controlled chaos doesn’t spiral into something more unbridled.
The quest itself is set around Edinburgh, where The Monster Munchers catch and kill monsters to help the citizens of the city. Full of pop culture and Edinburgh- specific references, each quest is an hour long standalone episode, which means that whilst the characters stay the same, each performance is different and it is possible to watch this show multiple times without missing out on an important plot point from the standpoint of continuity.
It’s clear that it has been specifically structured to be as closely resembling a regular D&D session as possible, even though there is more normalcy in the quest’s setting than usual, which is the source of a lot of the comedy. The camaraderie between the group makes this show, their banter occasionally slides into light bullying as they challenge each other in an attempt to plumb the narrative and their characters of as much weirdness as the group possibly can. The Neverending Quest is full of off-the-cuff and silly humour that is very enjoyable and a nice break from reality. The show loses the plot a little when the DM starts asking for random rolls of the dice with outcomes that seem to make reference individual player’s lives instead of the quest. Whilst in a private friend-group setting the references made would be more comprehensive, in a theatre it’s just a little strange and breaks the flow of the plot (such as it is). It doesn’t help that a lack of enunciation and inability to fully hear the cast above the laughter from the rest of the audience means that some of the words are just lost, so we do miss out on the context or joke itself. As far as improv goes, this show is quite sophisticated in that none of the cast hesitate to run with the joke, and they bounce off each other very well. They never miss a beat, and they enjoy a kind of easy chemistry that results in very funny interactions.
This show is a great hour of improvisation and comedy, in a kind of side-splitting fashion that comes from being on the receiving end of the most chaotic and creative vocalisations of someone's imagination. Tartan Tabletop is almost proof that improv doesn’t have to be stilted and frustrating, and the style that is adopted here makes the case for the genre to be incredibly enjoyable.