Take a risk and you might end up with a phenomenal evening
The Free Association are an improv group that learn together in London classes, and are building a name for themselves as a finishing school for those between university or work and professional performance. The performers enlist the help of a guest speaker, who talks about audience prompts. These speakers have included Fringe favourites such as Nina Conti, Joseph Morpurgo, and Trygve Wakenshaw. We had affable comedian and voice-over to Love Island, Ian Stirling, who won the audience’s approval by holding a half-finished beer and cheerily saying that it was his ‘character’ who was pissed. He spoke on the subjects of Dictaphone, Casino, and (unsurprisingly) Love Island, prompting an hour of loosely related skits.
The format generally works well for the FA: the monologues provide variation, a good amount of inspiration and, if nothing else, then simply referencing something said by the speaker gains an appreciative laugh. The sketches which worked the best were those which responded to accidents or asides: Stirling had randomly said an audience member looked like a wrestler, for example, and this weird comment, more than the actual story, inspired playful sketches and running gags. Some of the performers are clearly more experienced and confident than others, but all contribute to the scenes and have at least one standout moment.
Where the FA fall down, however, is in their inability to go along with the ideas of their teammates. In too many sketches, the performers end up going round in circles of ‘I'm doing this’, ‘Yes, but I want you to do this’, and having to resort to cheap jokes of ‘this is getting weird’ or making a callback in order to end the sketch. They must learn to be better at building ideas together, rather than being so eager to impress as individuals that they sabotage the whole. Some performers were far more guilty of this than others, and were, I suspect, those who fancied themselves as being better improvisers. Moments where everyone on stage had worked out the game in the scene and were all playing together were a delight.
With a rotating line-up, new monologists, and audience prompts, Jacuzzi is vastly different each night. If you're feeling lucky, take a risk and you might end up with a phenomenal evening. It's worth checking if your favourite performers will be there before booking in for the night. But even at their worst, the Free Association are going to give you some fizz to go with your midnight pint.