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The Parentheticals: Improdyssey
Etcetera Theatre
4th August 2018

★★★☆☆

Publicity image for The Parentheticals: Improdyssey

Photography provided by The Parentheticals

We've seen Improdyssey before. Well, sort of. This show took place in last year's Camden Fringe too, but due to the improvised nature of it, it's never quite the same. Plus, the main theme this year is a bit less hobbit-y and more knights of the pub table. Led by Brendan Way, improv group The Parentheticals take us on a quest. The exact nature of their epic journey is defined by the audience, so do some homework in advance of seeing them. Where exactly would you like to go with The Parentheticals? What would you like them to do? As we've said before, they're your comedy puppets. Play with them according to your every whim and you'll have a blast.

The show starts off disappointingly low-energy, as the players begin to set the scene. You never really know with an improvised comedy show just how much will be scripted and how much will be made up on the spot. Initially, it feels like quite a lot is rehearsed, however, as soon as the players divert from this preamble, the room livens up and the troupe have us in stitches. An onstage misunderstanding between Sean Toole and Kate Oswald triggers a running joke and the players feed hungrily on the laughter, taking it as a green light to ramp up the ridiculousness. We start with a medieval mission involving a sword (all very traditional) and end up with a gluten-intolerant sack of corn on roller skates (Joe Colgan), trying to outsmart our hero, Sir Jeremy (Guillaume Desqueyroux). Although Nat Ruginis ably provides support as an elderly chaperone and small child, she's no sack of grain.

As soon as Way invites two members of the audience to literally direct the action, chaos (of the good sort) ensues. Up until this point, we weren't convinced that the words we had had shouted out had been incorporated into the acting, but with two of our own physically pushing and pulling the performers, we know the audience are back in control. Dance, monkeys, dance! Oswald emerges particularly victorious, reacting swiftly to every prod with a razor-sharp wit and setting up Desqueyroux with ideas to work with. Whilst there are half a dozen players, all contributing to the madness, it's Oswald who truly shines. Oh, Carl. You'll always be our best Carl.

Before the show starts, we are asked to commit an embarrassing story to paper, a task that few people seem happy to complete. Look around the room and you can see a mix of blind panic and blank faces. However, everyone enthusiastically calls out place names and objects when asked to. The Parentheticals respond exceptionally well to audience participation, so key to their success is regular but simple direction. They would get more from breaking the action more frequently and inviting the audience to contribute just one word at a time. As well as keeping up the pacing and energy, it would minimise the risk of too many voices shouting out at the same time. Ask a question and the audience get ready for another one, and another one, and another... it doesn't really matter what the answer is, as long as there's agreement that the troupe have selected a word that everyone heard shouted out.

It's unlikely you'll ever see this particular Improdyssey again. We're not really sure which Improdyssey you will see, or what will happen in it. That possibly makes this review as useless as said gluten-intolerant sack of grain. However, we're going to go out on a limb and wager that whatever The Parentheticals make up next, it'll probably be a lot of fun.

The Parentheticals: Improdyssey opened on 3rd August and runs until 5th August at at the Etcetera Theatre, as part of the Camden Fringe.

Nearest tube station: Camden Town (Northern)



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