Walking into The Once and Improvised King, I don’t quite know what to expect. Would I be seeing something reminiscent of T. H. White or more like Monty Python? Disney’s Sword in the Stone or BBC’s Merlin? When it comes to comedy reimaginings of the medieval fantasy world of King Arthur, there’s plenty of precedent to draw inspiration from and comparison with. It seems a rather high-stakes endeavour. But once again the Cambridge Impronauts surprise and delight with this refreshing performance that brings some much-needed lightness to the Week 7 ADC Late Show.

The fantasy setting was prompted by two elements from the audience – the title of a quest, and a prophecy that needed to be fulfilled in the course of the hour. While these slightly more complex prompts took a while for Joel Lipson (playing Merlin, our compere for the evening) to coax out of the audience, they provided a strong structure and themes for the troupe to pick up on throughout their story. Soon enough, however, we were underway with ‘The Quest of the Vegan Dragon,’ a zany adventure involving culinary endeavours, enchanted swords, a quest for an underwhelming son to impress his (perhaps literally) draconian father.

The group had great energy, swapping adeptly between scenes and characters. There was a strong impression of coherency, although it was certainly a shame to see some members of the cast not fully take advantage of opportunities to work themselves into the narrative. This meant that final scenes in which all the narrative arcs were worked together gained a slight awkwardness, as the cast struggled to integrate all the established characters. As is to be expected in improv, some story ideas were introduced in brief scenes only to be never picked up again, and occasionally Merlin had to intervene to remind the cast of audience suggestions, but on the whole, there was an impressive arc to the whole story.


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Particular praise should be issued to Joel Lipson, who MCed proficiently, and kept the pace running, as well as providing several solid jokes in his own right, and to Isabella Leandersson who managed switches between two characters with practised ease (surprising indeed in an improvised performance). Jonatan Rostén was also very amusing as the villainous Victor, although one wonders how often his imposing stage presence will him to play the hero's nemesis in this particular show. 

Costume was used very well – a rack of assorted medieval garments in the centre of the stage was thoroughly made use of to differentiate between characters played by one actor, as well as providing great comic potential in itself. Perhaps more ambitious costuming than is typical in an improv show led to some awkwardness in costume changes, but this largely had comic effect. Sinead O’Hare’s lighting was a simple but effective story-telling mechanism, especially important in an improv show where control over black-outs gives the lighting technician considerable narrative authority. Seasoned Impronaut James Gard provided strong improvised piano, and played well into the fourth-wall breaks instigated by Isabella Leandersson, which provided some of the production’s strongest comic moments.

On the whole, this was an impressive improvised performance. Only occasionally did the cast fixate on jokes past their natural point, a common pitfall of improvised comedy. As one would hope, much of the comedy came from the very improvised nature of the performance. This is certainly an entertaining evening, and if all members of the cast are fully integrated into further performances, it will be even stronger.

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