The Improv Musical just does what it says on the cover – the audience give suggestions, and a troupe of University of Warwick students improvise a wholly original musical on the spot. They have a keyboard player and a drummer standing by to accompany in an equally improvised manner. In an impressive feat of confidence and quick thinking, these young performers manage to pull off something funny and relatively coherent.
Chris Baker, our energetic host, gets the audience to suggest a setting, a couple of characters and a title for the new musical-to-be. The suggestions that make the cut this time are a psychiatric ward, Boris Johnson and someone who thinks they are invisible but aren’t, and ‘Now You See Me’. What ensues is an hour of hilarious randomness, the excited atmosphere heightened by the way the audience is rooting for the performers. Michael, who thinks he is Harry Potter (an earlier character suggestion) and invisible, befriends Lucy, the only one who truly sees him for who he is. Boris Johnson comes to inspect the hospital – Florian Panzieri was brilliant as Johnson and slipped in several political jokes – and forms a bond with Dave, who can’t help walking in a circle to the right all day long. The two nurses want to run the hospital with a firm grip, but the quirky bunch of patients rebel. Thus, the tale unfolds before our eyes, completely different every night.
Not everyone in the cast is a terribly good singer, but all make up for it in enthusiasm. Musically and comedically, Panzieri drove the show, practically turning it into a sketch about Boris Johnson (perhaps because it might have become very politically incorrect if the setting of a psychiatric ward was focused on too much). However, the ensemble must be tight to manage something like this show, and they are mostly on the same wavelength, taking cues from each other and knowing just when to burst into improvised song. Highlights among the musical numbers included ‘Eton Mess’, in which Boris sings of mucking up his friendship with David Cameron, and ‘Turn Right’, in which Dave shows Boris how he will always be okay if he keeps turning right (Boris’s reply – ‘That sounds rather like a party political message!’).
Halfway through the show, the MC calls things to a halt, asking the audience what they wanted to happen next and in what musical style they would like it to happen. A conflict in which the resolution lies on the left in the style of Bollywood is chosen, and hilarity ensues. The cast of The Improv Musical obey the golden rule of improv, which is to always say yes, and that is what makes this show work. An afternoon of pretty much guaranteed entertainment, it’s definitely not slick but still pretty impressive.
The Improv Musical is playing C Venues – C until August 28.