Delighted to accept Bristol Improv Theatre’s invitation to their hotly-anticipated double-bill of Up the Antics and The Committee, I descended the stairs at their Clifton bolthole and was transported into a subterranean speakeasy of comedy. The groups on the programme, both Edinburgh grandees, take the audience on separate scenic routes, both ultimately reaching a nirvana of laughs.
The first set came from local group Up The Antics, self-styled as “a group of miscreants, vagabonds and rebellious spirits from Bristol”, and described by our friends EdFringeReview as “a troupe guaranteed to deliver a laugh every minute”.Theirs is the familiar improv method of requesting a setting from an unsuspecting audience member, and they are blessed with the rich seam of improvisational possibility that is a barbershop: Barbara’s Barbers. Following an admittedly pedestrian start, Up The Antics really hit their stride, wittily delving into topics of family dispute and incest, of all things. As tasteless as I make this sound, their sharp delivery, observant and relatable characterisation and obvious troupe cohesion makes their set a real romp. Their particular strength is their low-key delivery- those awful conceited looks from improv comedians as they deliver lines known to be a hit is thankfully absent- and their set is all the better for it, as they work through additional material: skydiving, TED talks, internet dating, and so on and so forth. Up The Antics are improvising their way to ever-higher acclaim.
I must admit, my heart sank like a pebble in a mill pond when I heard our second act, The Committee, billed as an American-style improv group. Haunting images of Carellesque anti-humour filled my mind. However, my prejudices couldn’t have been more misplaced. The London-based foursome bound onto The BIT in seemingly-compulsory improv uniforms: T-shirt, skinny jeans and New Balances. They immediately hit us with the holy trinity of questions: word we love to say but rarely get the chance; first kiss anecdote; and an item left behind after a relationship (which, it transpired, was a Bundyesque nexus of information about everyone that a member of the audience knew at university in the form of a cardboard mural- The BIT attracts all sorts). Clearly expecting something less Fritzl, the troupe nevertheless valiantly and hilariously set these audience submissions at the heart of their set. Coming from the capital, The Committee play it less safe than their provincial predecessors, moving seamlessly from bigamy to vertigo to stalking. Clearly a well-oiled machine, The Committee could get big laughs in their sleep, and the hours spent honing-in facial expressions, relationships and accents are obvious to see. Their set is an exercise in improv par excellence, and I dare say their run at The Edinburgh Festival this year will be a sell-out for the second consecutive year.
An evening at the Bristol Improv Theatre is an experience more akin to an underground (literally) movement rather than run-of-the-mill evening at the theatre. Arriving, you descend down into the basement of their grand Cliftonian premises into the bar, itself a hive of energy, humour and warmth. The BIT is the country’s first Improv Theatre, and this is a title of which all involved are rightly proud. A glance through their packed summer programme reveals the full spectrum of comedic endeavours that the theatre attracts: from Murder, She Didn’t Write (28th/29thJune) to The Dragprov Review (July 6th) as part of Bristol Pride. It is clear that The BIT is a well-known pit stop for the Edinburgh Festival set, and this ensures that the quality of improvised comedy, elsewhere so often woeful, here remains high. Bristolians! Make more of this fabulously unique comedy venue!
George Ruskin, Theatre & Arts Editor