Magic Door Productions’ The Understudies returns to the Fringe for a third year running, bringing improvised musical comedy based on audience suggestions. This show has some moments of greatness and is an enjoyable way to spend an hour.
Starting with a cardboard-based audience suggestion, a complex web of storylines are built up, with interesting links found between them on the spot by the performers. We find ourselves entangled in the storyline of an artist learning to paint via the medium of cardboard, their artistic consciousness, an MP who keeps making public gaffes to the great dismay of his press secretary, culminating in his declaring that recycling cardboard is stupid and a segment about two bungling police officers who just wish they were American. These strands begin very disparately but are eventually brought together until everyone’s storyline joins up in surreal ways.
The standout moment amongst all of this is an improvised song from James Strahan in which around five octaves are travelled through to impressive musical and comedic effect. The live keyboardist is very responsive to the action on stage, throwing in mood-creating trills and number-starting power chords as necessary. The cues to break into song are also usually smooth between all of the players.
On occasion, there is the impression that one player in a scene is being leant on for the majority of improvisation ideas, although the concepts chosen always resolve eventually and each player garners their own laughs. There are some moments where potentially fruitful sources of improvisation feel squandered as if the confidence to commit to the idea is lost at the second hurdle. There are other times where the resolutions to each improvised segment could be more expedient and where greater observation of what everyone is doing on stage would help each player plan their next move more effectively and prevent talking over one another. The show closes on an unsure note, with the players perhaps trying to decide which option of ending to select. Nevertheless, this reviewer for one laughs frequently and is onside with the players, ready to respond to one of the many good one-liners dropped throughout.
Overall, The Understudies is an enjoyable hour of improvised comedy which employs a strong concept in a slightly more rough-around-the-edges way than some of the other improvised comedy troupes at the Fringe. Support student theatre by coming to see this show.
The Understudies is on at The Wee Red Bar (Venue 506)
At 12:30 until 24th August
Book tickets here
Image: TBC, The Understudies Publicity Shot