As the Edinburgh Festival more or less bleeds the UK dry of comic talent during August, comedy has always been in rather short supply at FEVA. It was therefore a great treat to be able to welcome Nottingham’s Missimp improv troupe, for an afternoon visit on the last day of the festival.
Missimp have been to town before, playing a Star Wars themed show at the Frazer in 2016. This time around, a trimmed-down line-up of four players – Di, Emily, Jamie and Parky – performed in the theatre’s underused upstairs studio space. The intimacy of the room worked in everyone’s favour, narrowing the gap between the artists and the audience, and creating just the sort of relaxed atmosphere where improvisation can truly thrive.
The beauty of Missimp’s approach lies in its uniqueness. Nothing is scripted in advance, and all the scenes are driven by audience suggestions. You could never have seen this show before, and you’ll never be able to see it again.
The team opened with a “one word story” round, each player contributing a single word in turn, and building a surreally comic tale. It was followed by a “genre rollercoaster”, in which a scene would abruptly switch genres at the sound of a bell: from Rom Com movie to Kung Fu flick, via Thriller, Western and Grand Opera.
Laughter levels were cranked up to full wattage during a round where a honeymooning couple had to switch between speech and song. Through a door in their Albanian hotel room, a dungeon was revealed, complete with a whip on the wall, arranged by the groom as a surprise for his bride. “But I’m so vanilla”, Emily warbled. “I’m not going into detail, because there are kids in the audience. It’s a flavour of ice cream!”
A twist on BBC1’s Film 2017 saw “Zoe Ball” introducing a selection of suggested film titles: The Sock Drawer (voiced by Danny De Vito), The Cemetery Club, Raiders Of The Lost Parky, and Die Soft. In “Letter Replacement Therapy”, Di was instructed to replace the letter A in every word with a Z, while Parky had to substitute a cough for every I. The pair took a trip to Australia – or “Zustrzliz” as Di just about managed to splutter out.
For “Human Prop”, an audience member morphed into every shape the players required. It’s not easy for a paramedic to give the Heimlich manoeuvre to a sealion choking on a fish – as this reviewer soon discovered, at the cost of any dignity he might once have possessed.
Given jetlag as a topic, Jamie and Emily turned it into a Shakespearian scene, flying via Moorish Airlines to Ibiza, “where many japes and capers did occur”. Smart, eloquent wordplay and quick comic reflexes turned this round into one of the afternoon’s absolute highlights.
An invisible remote control switched the players between four TV channels, including The Love Of Mangoes, and live coverage of the My Little Pony Grand National, where all the steeds cheated by soaring above the hedges. The show concluded with a fictional postcard correspondence between Darrell (from Enid Blyton’s Mallory Towers novels) and Emmeline Pankhurst. Being somewhat lacking in Blyton knowledge, Darrell became a male chauvinist, baiting an increasingly furious suffragette in a scene which spiralled into utter hilarity.
Throughout their hour on stage, the four performers tackled some seemingly impossible challenges with dexterity, flair and quick-witted intelligence, while retaining a core warmth which placed us firmly on their side. As someone remarked to me afterwards, every single audience member laughed their heads off throughout. We must have them back.