Only Humour, the first improv group to emerge from Bristol University, present us with Word:Play. They compose one warm-up story to explain what it is that they do and then one big story before our eyes, with suggestions taken from the floor.
The warm-up began with an unrequited lover visiting the object of his desire, only to discover that she wants a fiver back which she leant him years before. Somehow, by way of some bizarre audience participation, Sherlock Holmes and a stuffed walrus entered into the proceedings. The second, much bigger piece, featured a love story between the ‘Onion King’ and a kitchen maid, promoted to Queen of the Kitchens, with other performers playing the prestigious parts of Sir Doofaloofus, Guard number one, Guard number two and Sally the previous Queen of the Kitchens. The ‘Onion King’ at one point or another left everyone with tears (of laughter) in their eyes.
Thomas Bloom, as a calm, prim typist in the warm-up and then as the gruff , lonely ‘Onion King’, really stood out. He retains composure on stage, his accents are great and his ability to pick up on what makes audiences tick and milking it is applaudable. Dan Titmuss is also very strong, usually coming up with good ideas the quickest. Although Elizabeth Skrzypiec was a bit flat in the first sketch as the desired maiden, she really got into character as the seedy, bolshy old guard of the Onion King, getting laughs every time with her convoluted insults and compliments to other characters.
Imogen Palmer’s style is quite slapstick; her noises, songs, screams and exaggerated faces were fun, but what she said was rarely that amusing. Similarly Andrew Yeoh was articulate throughout but rarely comedic. Stephen Michael Clements wasn’t as sharp at picking up on some of the material that was being suggested by other performers. He also didn’t look as comfortable and confident on-stage as the others.
These flaws of the performance made elements of The Onion King a bit dull. As with all improv, it’s hard to keep up the same level of wit and energy the whole way through. One suggestion would be to have two or three big improvised stories instead of just the one, so if one falls flat it can be wrapped up speedily for a new one to begin.
Those interested in improv should give this a go. For the most part, it’s an entertaining show.