Criminal | Brighton Fringe review by Steve Bennett
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Brighton Fringe review by Steve Bennett

Making its first visit to Brighton from its usual London home, Criminal is a regular long-form improv night. And the set-up couldn’t be much simpler.

This is a whodunit in which a detective must solve a murder. The audience provides the location, an item found by the body, and the deceased’s personality and occupation.  The three improvisers who are not the detective then draw lots to determine who did do it, which the audience, but not the investigator, sees. Though since each performer goes on to play multiple characters, that doesn’t limit proceedings much.

This is a harder improv gig than most to review, because not only is the format so loose it can barely be commented on, but the players change each time, too, making for a lot of variables.

However, at this Brighton outing, the show certainly didn’t gel as it should, resulting in a fragmented show with little internal logic or feeling that a proper story was unfolding. 

Almost every character acquired an obvious motive and  there's no clues that ever rules anyone in or out – not until the the random appearance of a hitherto unmentioned blood-soaked blouse at a hitherto unmentioned dry cleaner identified the guilty at the last minute. Deus ex washing machina.

Nor did the item the audience suggested – an elephant’s tusk – prove to be of much of relevance, though it did inspire a couple of the oddball characters the quartet created on the fly. These were better than the bitty narrative, and certainly left the impression that the performers are probably better than this particular show.

As the gruff Northern detective reluctantly posted down south from Scarborough, Max Dickins drove proceedings, establishing each scene and pushing the story onwards. Sally Hodgkiss was probably the best actor of the bunch, certainly the most convincing, but was often overlooked by the others, making her seem underused. 

Joel Gatehouse – also one of the producers of the show – has a nice line in naive idiocy, while Alexander Fox rose to the challenge of playing two characters in the same scene, a dependable improv trope.

Many of the character’s personality traits emerged from committing to the illogical things blurted out under pressure, but that’s a short-term laugh at the expense of more satisfying developments, contributing to the feeling of nothing really holds together. 

Slicker improvisers would probably not be pushed so easily into those decisions, and Criminal often attracts some of the best, such as Ruth Bratt, Pippa Evans and Cariad Lloyd. But on this occasion, with a plot leakier than the average Cabinet meeting, it didn’t quite come off.

Review date: 21 May 2019
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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