The Impronauts return to the Corpus Playroom in sitcom styleImpronauts Company

The Cambridge Impronauts’ newest offering has a premise that is ambitious, exciting, and just a bit intimidating – how does one improvise a sitcom, perhaps the most rehearsed and pre-prepared of comedic forms?

The answer is, firstly, with a lot of good will and humour from both the audience and the actors, which was undoubtedly provided in spades throughout this hour spent in the Corpus Playroom. The Impronauts followed their general formula of getting an improvised piece off the ground: asking the audience to volunteer a location and name for their sitcom, as well as a lesson that the characters in it can finally learn. The changeable nature of the piece meant that their set was of course sparse (consisting only really of chairs for the actors), but a mention must go to the Lighting Designer who was consistently willing to adjust and readjust to unscripted scene changes and occurrences (the abrupt fire that happened in the latter half of the ‘sitcom’ springs most readily to mind).

As is often the case with improvised pieces, this one was a little slow to get off the ground. After a stilted few minutes spent trying to get the audience to practice their best canned laughter and some slow dialogue in the first few scenes of the show (unfortunately also marred by actors laughing through a few lines here and there), the improvisers began to find their feet. Most helpful was arguably their personal ability to change the scene at their discretion, which if used more often would probably have prevented some jokes from being lingered on a tad too long. The first half of the show certainly had laugh out loud moments, but often these were at or with the actors themselves rather than a joke in their own dialogue.

Despite a few false starts, the show eventually headed into much more comfortable territory as the actors set up clear characters and relationship dynamics and began to portray them with confidence. A special mention must go to Joel Lipson, whose presence and character on stage was so well established that his fellow improvisers were prompted to play their own roles with far more dynamism. David Freeland was the last actor to enter the sitcom, but undoubtedly one of the strongest, providing shape and direction to a piece that, prior to his entrance, was dangerously close to slipping into an aimlessness more amusing to the actors than their audience. 

With a stronger plot established, the piece moved more towards moments of genuine hilarity. Lipson in particular has a strength for bringing out the best in his fellow improvisers, and his scenes with Freeland as well as Rachel-Marie Weiss were both humorous, human and – best of all – believably straight out of a sitcom.

Though the actors all had a clear and genuine camaraderie with each other, this didn’t always translate into a cohesive chemistry onstage, meaning dialogue was often a little too unnatural, or dragged on for too long: characters such as Freeland’s who often had long speeches therefore naturally stood out.

The guitarist situated at the corner of the stage (Fin Oades) was regrettably underused, only really playing during the audience’s entrance and exit into the house. The natural difficulty of an improvised piece is always the lack of stimuli. Random dialogue thrown out in the very initial, weaker scenes of the piece was consistently referred back to as a ‘safe’ point when it would have been better left behind (a joke about melons and male pregnancy, in the case of the show I attended, was a central aspect of the show, but one got the feeling that there was only a certain point to which the joke was truly funny).

Though faced with the natural difficulties of an improvised work, the show was entirely enjoyable. Powered by a strong willingness on the audience’s part to laugh at all sorts of gaffes, as well as an admirable eagerness to please on the parts of all the actors, the result was a show that, despite the ambition that may be read in its title, essentially knew what it was about: an hour of ludicrousness, hilarity, and unadulterated laughter. In that sense, the Cambridge Impronauts more than achieved their goal and should be commended for it.

I.M.P.R.O.V is on at the Corpus Playroom until 3rd March

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