Comedy Store Players 25th anniversary show

Note: This review is from 2010

Review by Steve Bennett

Twenty-five years the Comedy Store Players have been going; and you’ll be hard-pressed to think of many credible improv groups that have sprung up in all that time – not counting those which boast the same members.

For no one else makes it look as easy as they do. A quarter-century of honed ad-lib skills and professional camaraderie make them unassailable. With much improvised comedy, especially the student collectives that spring up every Edinburgh Fringe, the laughs come from seeing them struggle for words and jokes.

But not with the Players. There are a few minor stumbles, but it can be as slick as any scripted show. In fact, it often takes one of them to deliberately put a spanner in the works – and Paul Merton is always the prime candidate for this – to remind the audience that it is unscripted after all. People do tend to be surprisingly sceptical about the authenticity of improv, especially when it’s as apparently effortless as this.

The games never change – and many will be familiar from Whose Line Is It Anyway? – but their direction does. Sure, the same suggestions come up – there are only so many film and theatre styles; and the team must be so bored of people yelling ‘dildo’ as a household object that it’s graciously batted away – but making it seamlessly funny is a tall order.

Yet many of the scenes here – especially in the quickfire game in which contestants can yell ‘freeze’ then replace one of the actors on stage, assuming the same physical stance – are snappy one-liners any writer would be rightly proud of. But after tonight, a night just like any other for the Players despite the occasion, they will evaporate into the ether; as will the extended musical playlet about a Chaucerian badger-farmer’s wife (the loosest item of the night); the hyrda-headed explanation of monkfish lacrosse, and the incomprehensible Spanish expert on chorizo and marriage.

It helps that they can read each other so well after all these years of course, taking over well-defined roles in the group. Neil Mullarkey is the de facto leader, the upper-middle class bloke whose control freaky becomes a running joke; Merton’s the disruptive child (at one point pulling down the Comedy Store sign); Andy Smart, looking like a bedraggled Top Gear presenter, brings bold, larger-than-life performance to contrast with more restrained, but deceptively sharp-witted, everyman of Lee Simpson. Richard Vranch is more precise, contributing pithy one-liners as well as musical accompaniment when needed – which is where the unfeasibly talented Josie Lawrence comes in to her own, generating quick-witted lyrics in any style, belying her usual delightfully bewildered persona.

This show will run and run…

Review date: 1 Nov 2010
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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