The Understudies (Bedlam: 13-19th Aug: 14:00: 60 mins)

“Fantastic creativity under pressure”

Editorial Rating: 3 Stars

There’s a very laid-back feel to The Understudies as they take to the stage dressed with a Breakfast Club vibe. Indeed, it’s quite a pleasing difference to the high octane energy of some other groups out there, and the introduction to the troupe and process of selecting a show title from audience suggestions is very personable, winning the audience over straight away.

It takes a special kind of person to be able to get up and improvise a show to a room full of strangers – moreso when there’s singing involved. The group opening number is a chance for each player to have their moment in creating a verse of the ditty on the spot, and it’s a positive start as to what to expect from the rest of the show – even though it’s disappointing this is one of precious few occasions that all players appear on stage together to demonstrate their prowess as a company.

Particularly amusing elements throughout the show are when two players are mid conversation in a scene, and MD Sam Coade just starts playing, forcing one of the players to begin a song about whatever they were talking about. Indeed, the strength of the Understudies is in the individual players themselves who display fantastic creativity under pressure and an ability to commit to their personal stories throughout.

In saying that, what holds this troupe back is their cohesion as a group – in this performance the players seemed to contradict each other or get too bogged down in their own storylines, which led to a lot of loose ends, changes in direction, and an almost competitive rather than collaborative feel. Indeed, at points there was a reticence from some players to jump on stage and save their counterparts at difficult moments, rather than relish in the opportunity to create more fun. There were some attempts at backing dancing and vocals to create more depth and variety in the numbers, and it’s a shame these never came to very much.

The Understudies is a good fun show packed with all the giggles you would expect from a completely improvised musical. It lacks the professional edge of some of the other companies out there doing similar things, but a good value show all the same – there are far worse things you could do with your afternoon.


Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 14 August)

Visit the Bedlam archive.


An Improvised Murder (New Waverley Arches, 16 – 22 Aug : 20:00 : 1hr)

“It felt like a real murder mystery”

Editorial Rating: 3 Stars

One can’t really walk for more than five minutes through Edinburgh’s old town in August without someone trying to get you to see something improvised. From musicals to films, Jane Austen to Dickens: you name it, a troupe of overly excited students will improvise it. However I thought I’d see my first “unique” show of the year in a genre I haven’t yet experienced – an improvised murder mystery.

The improvisation follows a familiar formula: a facilitator gathers ideas and directions from the audience as a basis for the players to act out a show. Why? The facilitator needs help to pitch a last minute script to an imaginary producer, and the improvisation will become that script. You’ll follow…

Our show, thanks to audience suggestions, was to be set in a bank in Tyneside, and the troupe got to it right away with barely a moment’s thought. It was a bit of a slow burner to start with as the players established characters and relationships, but when the imaginary producer called to interrupt the action, new suggestions were given to the actors by the facilitator and off we went again.

I was pleasantly surprised at how the group managed to build tension and possible motives for murder following the first interruption. From exposing fraudulent financial activity, to the old favourite of spurned and jealous lovers, it wasn’t long before it felt like a real murder mystery.

As the audience we get to pick who gets killed half way through, and we’re then able to quiz each player with any question we choose, which they answer on the spot. This section was great as we could directly engage with the characters, and I was able to forget that I was watching a completely improvised show.

While it’s a shame that not every suggestion we made was accepted, and that one player had to spend the majority of the show with a pig attached to his leg (not my idea…), the developments and twists did generally turn the drama up a notch, so it was good to have a facilitator adept at knowing when changes need to be made.

It wasn’t perfect though: players at times forgot which accent they were supposed to be doing and occasionally even what their own names were. However, it was certainly a nice change from other improvised shows out there and a very promising Edinburgh debut from Foghorn Improv. As the run goes on and the players get more into the swing of things, I’m sure they’ll shake off these basic errors.

Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 16 August)

Visit the Other