“An improvised cinematic musical using a cast of actors performing alongside untested hypnotised volunteers expected to act, dance and even rap under the same impromptu conditions as the trained professionals”, you say? Everything about the premise of this show sounds like it shouldn’t work. Yet somehow, everything is crammed neatly into 70 minutes, giving the audience, and especially the volunteers, a classic Edinburgh Fringe moment that they won’t forget, regardless of how many other shows they see.
A classic Edinburgh Fringe moment the audience won’t forget, regardless of how many other shows they see
There really is a lot going on from the get-go, when a producer runs on stage to announce something has gone horribly wrong with their movie and the ‘Hypnotic Director’ must find audience members to fill in for some of the cast. The hypnotist Simon Warner introduces the hypnotic element and invite volunteers up to get induced into a trance. He doesn’t have the characteristics of what one might expect from a hypnotist, more of a highly polished Butlins Redcoat, but he gets the volunteers under his spell efficiently and proficiently so the bulk of the show can focus on the musical.
The cast of five improvisers, complete with two-piece band, take an audience suggestion for the theme of the ‘movie’ – The Good, The Bad and The Fabulous, and set it in an American High School. The improvisational aspect is a little generic – the songs are bland, plot uninvolved and characters one-dimensional. If you’re after a top quality improvised musical comedy this shouldn’t be your first port of call. However, it serves its purpose fine here because the format requires the volunteers to step into the scene and take centre stage.
Warner mostly remains in the background, surreptitiously whispering instructions to his five hypnotics as they effortlessly slot themselves into the musical. I’ve seen a lot of hypnosis shows (and delivered over 100 in Edinburgh Fringe myself) and this has the highest demand on the volunteers that I could even conceive. The volunteers are (quite rightly) the stars of the show, breaking into falsetto climaxes, freestyle rap, making sophisticated call-backs and generally abiding to the core rules of improv which are breath-takingly perfect at times. Less educated audience members might be tempted to consider them plants, but make no mistake, this is a genuine display of the phenomenon of hypnosis. That being said, it’s likely that some volunteers are more accustomed to the stage here than they might be if the show toured to your local town.
The show made some interesting creative decisions, including setting the movie in America – adding cultural adaptation to the already high expectations on the volunteers – and full five-minute scenes between the real actors that did not make use of the volunteers at all, and did nothing to enhance the show. The live keyboard used for the induction and throughout the musical did much to set the right mood for the event, which certainly had many five-star moments and belly laughs from the entirety of the audience.