This article is from 2009.
Seasoned pros come up short in the improv game
As a genre, improvised comedy has an innate disposition to failed jokes and constant changes of direction, so if you’re after a belly-laugh you have to be prepared to keep up and gloss over the cracks. The best improv shows on the Fringe aren’t necessarily from the pros. Beg, borrow or steal a ticket to Paul Merton’s Impro Chums (**) and you might find you're paying for the name rather than a comedic fortress.
Showstopper! The Improvised Musical (***) is another high-octane act, but while the dancing is smooth and the musical repertoire extensive, they probably score lower on actual pizzazz and ability to dream up an unhackneyed storyline than the relatively unpolished Lights! Camera! Improvise! (***), who manage to cobble together an extremely credible film in their 50 minutes.
Of course, and as every impro compere will remind you, each day and each show is different, and on this directive, it's possible that I just caught the Oxford Imps (*)on an off-day. It was, unfortunately, a horrendous one which resulted in them blowing the whistle and running off stage before any sense of closure had been reached. At times like that you start to long for a taut structure like that of The Noise Next Door (****), whose extremely well thought-out central concept (to create a brand new world every night) leaves them plenty of space for controlled ingenuity and a genuinely enjoyable performance.
The most receptive improv audiences are almost without exception those of the further reaches of the evening. If you have a bent for geeky, gawky humour then several members of Shambles (***) are really, genuinely funny. One of their viewers ended up with chest bare, posing as Jordan for holiday snaps. But then, it's only as fun as you, the audience, make it.
See list.co.uk/festival for full details.