The Free Association: Sliding Lives | Review of a new improv format
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The Free Association: Sliding Lives

Review of a new improv format

Not a bad idea for an improv format, this. In each show of Sliding Lives, a guest is interviewed about a decision or moment when their life could have taken a different turn, and a team of improvisers act out the alternate realities.

Tonight, at least, that invokes two credible starting points and one entirely fanciful – though they all inevitably take a turn into the surreal.

The turning point for Fran Bushe – the writer of The Diary of My Broken Vagina – was deciding to quit art school, feeling she wasn’t cool enough to fit in. But what if she’d stayed on, and became the toast of the London art scene, feted by Charles Saatchi? Or what if she’d taken up the fashion module, and wound up working with Kate Moss? Or what if she’d gone off the rails and indulged a murderous bloodlust?

Though the wilder option sounds the most appealing comic route. But it’s actually the more challenging to pull off without a semblance of reality to anchor it, and even this talented troupe struggle to maintain a coherent narrative.

Yet talented they are, creating some real laugh-out-loud moments, ad-libbing decent gags such as one art student offering up, deadpan, ‘I’ve been to France’ as evidence of their coolness. Occasionally an incredulous glance or disbelieving tone is enough to get a laugh.

They’re especially good at setting up running jokes and using them sparingly – at least for the most part – rather than relying too much on the familiarity to get an easy chuckle.

Nor do they commit the tiresome improv sin of making a joke out of their struggle for the next line. Indeed, they are pretty seamless with their narratives. And when there is a slip, they embrace it. When one of the team, struggling for the name of a fashion designer, alighted on ‘Da Vinci’, her colleagues went with it, hilariously reimagining the Renaissance master as a fashionista. They are not afraid of stitching each other up, either, committing their colleagues to go through with ill-advised statements made on the hoof.

There are a few minor lulls over the three scenarios, and the murder plot did lose its way. But the Free Association troupe are also adept at wrapping up their storylines, creating a gag that neatly draws a funny line under the proceedings, making it feel like a natural conclusion. 

• Sliding Lives is on at The Free Association, above the De Beauvoir Arms in Hoxton on Thursdays to Saturdays at 7.30pm until May 21.

Review date: 6 May 2022
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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