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Anil Desai: Stand-Up Chameleon– Fringe 2009

Note: This review is from 2009

Review by Jay Richardson

Improvised impressions? The concept may either tickle you with glee or send a chill down your spine, but the reality of Anil Desai’s gimmicky show is rather more mundane.

Promising 52 impressions in 52 minutes, he employs a volunteer and pack of cards to randomly select voices from his repertoire, taking suggestions from the audience as to places, situations, occupations and film styles, all the usual ingredients of improv.  

Obviously, each night will throw up a different show. But not, I suspect, too different. Although the greater majority of his mimics are exceptionally good, they’re drawn almost exclusively from cartoon characters and Hollywood – including Johnny Depp as both Hunter S Thompson and Captain Jack Sparrow, and a Darth Vader who I’m pretty sure will contrive to announce himself as somebody, anybody’s father, regardless of the situation.

A second volunteer cheerleads the applause whenever Desai indicates that a scene has run its course, frequently before he’s found a strong get-out line. The inescapable conclusion is, that for all his mental agility, this is a show that would be immeasurably improved with at least one more performer.

There are so few of the curveballs and challenges, inspired riffs and playing to strengths that accomplished improv troupes set up for each other. As the hour wears on, the previously energetic Desai starts to visibly flag, dictating more and more of the situations himself and for the last ten impressions or so, he simply trots them out, showing off that he has them in his locker.

Notwithstanding the entirely self-indulgent, third best Michael Jackson dancing I’ve seen at this Fringe, and his evocation of the late Don LaFontaine, the immediately recognisable Movie Voiceover Guy pottering around at home in a sequence that’s uncomfortably similar to Pablo Francisco’s signature routine, Desai has a few curious gaps too.

For example, he has a tremendous anecdote about being persuaded to do his Christian Slater for Christian Slater at a previous festival, demonstrating a spot-on recreation of the actor. But Desai’s Jack Nicholson, which you wouldn’t have thought was any great leap from Slater, sounds absolutely nothing like the lupine seducer. Likewise, there’s a scene from Friends in which he’s got Rachel, Ross and Chandler’s speech patterns down pat and yet they may as well be the cast of Coronation Street for all they’re recognisable. Still, credit where credit’s due. Ninety per cent of his voices are amusingly accurate, his Christopher Walken and Jeff Goldblum devastatingly and hilariously so.

Ultimately, much of Desai’s shtick is impressive without being that funny. If he could persuade another impressionist to duel with him, he might just have a really good Fringe hour.

Review date: 27 Aug 2009
Reviewed by: Jay Richardson

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