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Rupert Pupkin Collective

Note: This review is from 2010

Review by Steve Bennett

Twenty-five years ago comedians Jim Sweeney and Steve Steen formed an improv group, which they named after the desperate would-be comic from Martin Scorsese's King of Comedy, pre-dating the Comedy Store Players by two whole days.

The Rupert Pupkin Collective brand – for want of a better word – has now been revived for the quarter-century, and in a Fringe now awash with novice improv groups prove there is no substitute for experience.

Everyone on stage tonight is also a Player, Sweeney and Steen having joined the Store’s outfit a long time ago. Sweeney has now retired from performing because of multiple sclerosis – although his career is charted in the film The Sweeney, which will be screened at the Gilded Balloon on the 17th – but Steen is in tonight’s line-up, alongside Andy Smart, Ian Coppinger, Dave Johns and the redoubtable Stephen Frost.

Since improv is so firmly rooted in the ‘now’, this is no time for history – and none of the background is mentioned, it’s straight into the sort of games that will be largely familiar to any casual improv-goer. A story is narrated, with each comic picking up the thread, hopefully seamlessly, when the MC points to them; a foreign expert requires a translator to explain their detailed lecture; a hairdresser scene is played out to various film and theatre styles…

The pace is varied, sometimes allowing for quickfire gags or sometimes longer form, such as improvising a whole playlet based around the life of one audience member.

Despite their collective experience, they do still come a cropper sometimes, which is, of course, part of the fun. Geordie Johns seems to be the main wildcard, going off on mad flights of fancy which are just as likely to crash and burn as lead anywhere hilarious. In contrast, Coppinger excels at the quick hit-and-run gag, keeping the punchline rate up. Meanwhile, none of these middle-aged men maintain the dignity of the years, and still happily throw themselves into the bizarre scenarios.

The weakest member of the team is the audience. In a room far from being even half-full, the suggestions are sluggish and sometimes ill-advised. ‘Auschwitz’ probably isn’t the location the performers were seeing for their Knockabout final sketch, the ‘mind fuck’ in which everyone’s voice is provided by another member of the team – a game that’s hard to describe and even harder to pull off, although they just about ride the chaos to its conclusion.

All five performers pour plenty of energy into the scenes, but by definition they can only use what they are given, and they’re not given that much tonight. It’s a shame as their track record proves are better than this.

Review date: 13 Aug 2010
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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