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Improv Deathmatch
The Aces and Eights
5th August 2017


City Impro

Photography provided by City Impro

Assuming you're not a dead Roman, it's generally frowned upon to take a group of assorted adults, put them in an arena and have them fight to the death. It turns out if you replace swords with words, what ensues isn't a bloodbath, but a seriously funny hour of live comedy. Although, if you do really want a bloodbath, you could probably have one - everything in City Impro's Improv Deathmatch is obligingly made up on the spot, according to the audience's every caprice.

The red team and blue team fight it out in a number of rounds such as Story, Story, Die in which the participants take it in turn to add to an improvised story until one by one they all drop out, running out of immediate ideas. This gives some structure to proceedings, with everyone's favourite referee David Price introducing and succinctly explaining each round. However, as much as the format itself is tried, tested and planned to the nth degree, the improvisations themselves remain completely random, with the audience shouting out a number of unhelpful words and situations for the comedians to work with, challenging them to find humour in "soft irons" and orphan-shooting safaris.

Despite one loud man at the back suggesting the same one object over and over again (spoiler alert: it's a sex toy, with this being a late night gig, of course you wouldn't expect that), the comedians manage to successfully navigate away from this. Tom Jacob-Ewles shows a particular skill here in shutting down a repeated gag that is becoming rapidly less funny, without making it uncomfortable. He brings the humour, even when he's effectively reprimanding someone. City Impro always put on a good show because they are imaginative, quick-thinking and know how to control a room; the latter being the element that their less successful competitors generally lack.

Whilst Price won't discount any of the audience's ideas (which take us from the utterly ridiculous to the downright dark), he does sometimes seem to unfairly dish out points purely to create suspense in the last round. We're asked to cheer so he can determine the winners of each round and from listening to all the noise, he doesn't always get this right. It's unusual that he has to fix the points, normally the split of talent is more even across the teams, however in this match, the red team have a weaker start and never come close to clawing their way back The audience though are no fools, muttering their disagreement (instantly forgiving Price because he's somewhat of a comedy legend) and making sure when they shout out at the end, there is no ambiguity about the overall winners.

From the atmosphere in the room, I am not the only person to have intentionally sought out rather than stumbled on this show. You both know and don't know what you're getting - such is the nature of live improv. The red team seem a little lacklustre, beaten before they get started, but for the blues, Liam Brennan really stands out, coming up with some inventive ideas, nailing his accents and mastering callbacks. Although he's not the only one to attempt it, he is arguably the most successful, garnering laughs every time he does so.

I have no idea which members of City Impro you'll see (they're a large group and always mix up the players) but rest assured, buy a ticket for their next Deathmatch and whoever is on stage will give you a bloody good show. Few improv companies have their finesse and their show is always a highlight of each Camden Fringe.

Improv Deathmatch ran from 4th to 5th August 2017 and runs again on 11th August at the Aces and Eights, as part of the Camden Fringe.

Nearest tube station: Tuffnell Park (Northern)

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