Spontaneous, surreal, and, most importantly, side-splittingly hilarious, the stars of Whose Line Is It Anyway? conjure up an afternoon of comedy gold on the final day of the Vodafone Comedy Festival. Taking to the stage in the sweltering confines of the Cherry Top tent, the scenes of unscripted madness and sheer chaos which follow thrill both the lively crowd and the quick-witted cast who create them.
Based on a long-running Channel 4 series of the same name, this is a comedy show with a difference. Completely improvised, series veteran Stephen Frost pits the cast members against each other in a string of bizarre games designed to test the strength of their funny bones. As if that isn’t pressure enough, they’re also at the peril of the audience, who essentially get to control the games by shouting up the locations, emotions and topics to be played out.
It all leads to a fast-paced, constantly evolving, and achingly funny performance. What makes it such a success is the pure skill and talent of the cast themselves. While Phill Jupitus and Joe Rooney are probably the most familiar faces in the line-up today, the others – Frost, Andy Smart, Steve Steen and Dubliner Ian Coppinger – all possess the same wild imagination and killer gift for comic timing. It’s a real team effort: they finish each others sentences, pre-empting the absurd twists each scene might take, and jump in if something’s going too far off track.
Using only the audience suggestions of “Harry Potter” and “a rolling pin” for the opening scenario, Frost can orchestrate the cast in a ten-minute storytelling in which the crowd must bellow “Die!” if someone’s too slow off the mark. Their enthusiasm is infectious: they clearly revel in what they do, using every opportunity possible to outdo each other and adding layers of ridiculousness to already mad situations. When they’re not in the throes of a Colombian cocaine-hangover dance (seriously!), they’re at the back of the stage, laughing at the idiot who is.
Every game played results in some brilliantly eccentric and irreverent moments. There’s the Bollywood musical about a former factory worker who had his kneecaps replaced by coconut shells after a shooting incident; a newlywed husband discovering he’d been molested by his hermaphrodite wife; and an emergency intervention between a Dutch scientist and an inarticulate Lithuanian astronaut on the International Space Station. It sounds very odd because, yes, it is very odd, but going by the uproars of laughter, both on stage and off, everybody loves it for that.
Just over an hour long, the antics end on a suitably bizarre note with the story of superheroes Tourettes Man and Broadway Musical Man driving to the scene of a car crash. The cast bow to take their applause, sending some back to the crowd in thanks for their eager participation. Sad to see the show over but glad to leave the stifling heat of the tent, everyone trundles out into the sunshine with well-earned smiles planted across their faces.
By Orlaith Grehan.