Olivia Gillman

Last night I was lucky enough to see Brain Squids 2: Revenge of the Brain Squids, a long-awaited sequel to the original Brain Squids.  We follow Nurse Jess (Jonatan Rosten) and Nurse Yarn (Brent Weisberg) as they uncover the cause behind and fight back against an increasingly ludicrous number of unexplained deaths in the German seaside city of Smallville (unfortunately Superman was unable to lend a hand). This is the first in a series of entirely-improvised long-form shows by the Cambridge Impronauts, who take an audience suggestion and spin it into an hour of comedy gold.

"The biggest laugh of the night probably came from Damian Smith’s slow, but menacing flop across the stage as the first squid out for brains"

The B-movie horror setup works so well in an improv format that it’s a wonder the Impronauts hadn’t breached it before. You’d think the inherent absurdity of the tropes of the genre would give the cast little room to twist the script, but instead they just found more and more ways to push the boat out: evil twins, flashbacks within flashbacks, talking squids, and most hilariously, the various accents of the geographically-confused Doctor Sprinkles (Aidan Pittman). Each member of the cast brings something to the piece: Olivia Gillman’s small asides and jabs from offstage keep slower scenes afloat; Miguel S. Labels’ maniacal evil doctor is brilliantly campy; and Aidan Pittman’s physical comedy is so exaggerated that at times it was hard to distinguish between his squid and human characters (in the best possible way).

It’s difficult to pick a stand-out performance, as the ensemble worked best playing off each other. I particularly liked that each cast member had a different red accessory to help tell them apart, and that the Impronauts really seemed to be enjoying themselves, laughing offstage whenever someone made a joke. The chemistry of the group really rose to the surface. That being said, the biggest laugh of the night probably came from Damian Smith’s slow, but menacing flop across the stage as the first squid out for brains. Smith also delivered my personal favourite line, as the mayor of Smallville, desperately trying to assuage the press that the formation of the Super Brain Squid (formed from two cast members carrying a third) was nothing to worry about: “if homeopathy has taught me anything, the bigger the squid, the less dangerous it is.”

Of course, the jokes don’t always land, and a couple of scenes meandered without going anywhere particularly funny. Balancing between taking the story in interesting new directions, and tying together the established plot, is a feat for any improv performer, and over the course of the week, as the performers become more comfortable, I expect this will be even better. More generally, it would also have been fun to see the performers flip the script and bring more mundane elements to the whimsical setting: a character forming a romantic relationship with the monster, or having to consider the practicalities of the B-movie horror conventions. As a chance to test the waters, though, Brain Squids 2: Revenge of the Brain Squids is a decided success.


Mountain View

The Footlights International Tour Show 2019: Look Alive! review

I’d be remiss to not finally mention James Gard’s musical accompaniment – each scene is underscored by (improvised) keyboard, giving us a full soundtrack, including, I noticed, ‘Under the Sea’ from The Little Mermaid. I have seen many of the troupe’s long-form shows, and they have consistently made me, an improv sceptic, roar with laughter; this performance is no different. It bears repeating: the show is very funny. If you’re looking for something to tide you over until May Week, Attack of the 50ft Improvisers! is resoundingly not a wash thanks to a cast who take to the theme like ducks to water.