Paul Merton's Impro Chums, The Pleasance

Merton's tame chums win few friends
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The Independent Culture

I suppose it was too much to hope that a show with the word 'Chums' in the title was ever going to get past first-base funny. It was also unlikely that they were ever going to pick up my pre-show suggestion to enact a scene based around the theme "Shamed TV Presenter". Still, one can but try.

I suppose it was too much to hope that a show with the word 'Chums' in the title was ever going to get past first-base funny. It was also unlikely that they were ever going to pick up my pre-show suggestion to enact a scene based around the theme "Shamed TV Presenter". Still, one can but try.

Paul Merton on Angus Deayton would have been worth paying to hear, but what was on offer was an extended version of a poor episode of Who's Line Is It Anyway? If that is an easy comparison to make then it was made even easier by the guest appearance of improv veteran Mike McShane, who is appearing at the Festival in Fatboy this year. Merton was also joined by fellow mainstays of the Comedy Store Players Richard Vranch, Jim Sweeney, and Suki Webster, Merton's girlfriend, whose own show at the Fringe is directed by him.

It's in the unspoken contract between audience and improvisational comedian that you ride the peaks with the troughs and hope that the comedy road is smooth. For their part the audience are rewarded with the opportunity of shaping their entertainment by setting the context of the sketches.

At times the audience were the entertainment. For example, an improv game called "Die", where the participant riffs until the audience tells them not to, provided ample opportunity for hecklers to shout "die" long after that actual game ended.

An overlong scene between Merton translating Webster's Buddhist foot masseur was a case for an earlier demise. So protracted was the agony that when Sweeney returned to the stage he said: "Thanks for that. There are other people involved." Perhaps it was a testimony to his dry humour but he sounded as if he meant it.

There are "Merton moments", of course. Touches of inspiration where he cuts straight down to the punch line and moves on to the next one, for example lambasting a dead body for lying around and not taking the 400 metres race very seriously or putting his arm round Vranch's waist and asking him lecherously if he had ever considered voting Conservative. Of course, this is improv and you had to be there, but if you weren't don't worry, you didn't miss much. The flashes of inspiration stayed in the pan and it looked like a bad night for the chefs.

One of the problems of this show is that the improv games were too rigid, not conducive to tag-teaming, or to scenes involving the majority of the group until the last game, a Shakespearian take on any subject you care (and by then that was debatable) to mention. Too often the sketches looked like they needed a bit of help but rather than stretch out a hand they kept on groping for hooks that weren't there.

The Impro Chums are in one of the Pleasance's largest spaces but is the only show programmed there other than Puppetry of the Penis. It is unusual for a Fringe venue not to be humming with activity and inspiration; perhaps this explains the lack of this show's bite. Not a proven theory, but then again I'm improvising.

To 30 August (not 23rd). 0131 556 6550

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