REVIEW: Improv comedians create successful scenes on the spot at Christ’s Hospital

Kevin Tomlinson and Abi Hood
Kevin Tomlinson and Abi Hood
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On The Edge! Comedy improvisation by Kepow Theatre Company, Christ’s Hospital, Horsham, February 24

I can just about imagine how difficult it must be for an actor to appear onstage with 90 minutes worth of lines in their head.

So it’s borderline impossible for me to imagine what it’s like for a performer to stride out in front of an audience with absolutely nothing memorised at all.

Nevertheless, some gifted comedians are able to do this night after night.

They call their craft ‘improv’, which is shorthand for trying to create compelling, funny and coherent sketches on the spot – all live and totally unedited.

This can be hit-and-miss (which adds to the thrill of watching it) but when it works, it can be a beautiful thing to witness.

So I’m happy to say that On The Edge! an improv comedy show by Kepow Theatre, is a triumph and gets a well-deserved round-of-applause at Christ’s Hospital Theatre.

The two performers – Kevin Tomlinson and Abi Hood – have a variety of masks, wigs and costumes at their disposal.

And instead of a script, they have scraps of paper littering the stage, each containing a song lyric contributed by an audience member. These are read out every now and then, and the words are incorporated into the drama no matter how incongruous they may seem.

Kevin and Abi offer a selection of scenes, all based on those moments when people are ‘on the edge’. A doctor and a taxidermist decide to get married, a Latin teacher gives birth, a different teacher talks to God (and gets some exercise), a lonely proctologist tells a group of ducks about his life and an elderly man in a retirement home reminisces about his marriage.

The jokes work well most of the time, with only a few falling flat, and there are some moments that are simply hilarious.

It could be argued that the most impressive aspect of the show is the way Kevin and Abi are able to come up with dramatic or moving moments, giving each newly invented character some depth and realism.

This doesn’t always work brilliantly – the doctor and taxidermist sketch in particular feels rather cartoonish – but it’s often well observed and infuses some of the later sketches with a sense of melancholy.

It also encourages viewers to think a bit about the human condition.

Ultimately though Kevin and Abi aim to give their audience a fun time. They don’t just rely on audience suggestions to create comedy, they pluck people out of their seats and turn them into active participants.

For example, they bring a husband and wife up onstage and perform a ‘re-enactment’ of the pair’s first meeting in front of them, guided only by the couple’s bell-ringing or horn-tooting prompts.

They also get a Christ’s Hospital student to act as a puppeteer, asking him to control their limbs and movements for one sketch with bizarre results.

Just before the intermission Kevin refers to the production as a ‘game’ and that’s probably the best way to think of it.

Throughout the show it feels as if the actors and audience have teamed up to entertain themselves.

In an age where people can spend hours passively absorbing whatever’s on a screen in front of them, On The Edge! feels particularly refreshing.

It encourages everyone involved in the evening to stay alert and think.

These comedians may claim to have ‘nothing’ in their heads during their introduction – a seemingly impossible situation for an actor – but it’s clear that their minds are working overtime to provide an intelligent, amusing and unique piece of theatre.

The next comedy night at Christ’s Hospital Theatre is Gary Delaney’s stand-up show on Thursday, March 16 (7.30pm).

Call the box office on 01403 247434 or visit www.christs-hospital.org.uk.

Click here to find out more about Kepow Theatre Company.

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