The only pies thrown in anyone’s face at The Improvised Panto – or, to be precise, this particular improvised panto – were figurative, with plot twists and narrative devices so bizarre that they are not only tolerated but almost actively encouraged. It’s the sort of show that becomes increasingly enjoyable the zanier it gets. As the performance I attended really was improvised (as well every other performance in this short run), narrative details don’t count as spoilers.
I’m so used to keeping the secrets, however, that I will only say that there probably won’t be another panto called ‘Jingle Smells’ set in a research laboratory in Antarctica featuring a resurrected David Bowie in his Ziggy Stardust phase any time soon. Just as well, one might argue, but then again, with audience suggestions invited periodically throughout the show, the power lies with the punters to create a pantomime to their liking. (Oh yes it is, and so on.) What was suggested may be slightly tortuous on occasion for the actors – one performer almost begged for a proposed ‘rap battle’ not to go ahead – but it’s hugely satisfying seeing them all rise to challenge after challenge laid before them.
This is not a show for the fainthearted; on opening night, little, if anything, was off-limits, and there were occasions when some members of this affable audience openly gasped, and for good reason. I deliberately refrain from supplying you with further particulars. Overall, though, a commitment to rhythm and rhyme in the dialogue meant sacrifices for both storyline and character development.
The comedy elements were excellent, and had the audience laughing out loud – the punchlines were, perhaps, a little too good for panto, which is famed for the sort of jokes that provoke groaning from young and old alike. That said, I hasten to add that in the end, good jokes are better than bad ones, so all is forgiven.
Ross Virgo had an engaging manner, leading proceedings with a warm opening and an icebreaker activity that set the bar for the sort of call and response required. The limited seating in this studio space means there are only so many people who could be accommodated, and therefore only so many people who can make a vocal contribution through cheering, booing, hissing and heckling.
With this in mind, the audience goes for it – we are, for better or for worse, almost as exposed as the performers.
Chris Royds proved, to borrow a line from South Pacific, that there is nothing like a dame, providing actor-musicianship in a show that would otherwise have been performed acapella. (Recorded music just isn’t ‘improv’.) No mishap went unnoticed, and even the most rudimentary of wardrobe malfunctions, something as innocent as a glove not perfectly fitting its wearer, was noted and used to good comic effect.
This, then, is an eccentric production, even by pantomime standards, and it’s also boisterous. This group of performers were palpably enjoying themselves, and this evidently rubbed off on the audience. Lively and full of seasonal cheer, it’s a hoot.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Very Serious People present The Improvised Panto! After a highly successful run last year, VSP revive their signature show.
Based on your suggestions, we’ll put together a musical pantomime with a happily-ever-after that’s never been seen (or rehearsed) before!
Whether you’d like to see a film-star fairy tale or a political panto, this is the Christmas show for you! Cheer and boo for the Heroes and Villains you create, with improvised songs, spontaneous dance routines and a night of raucous fun guaranteed!
Very Serious People have previously performed for the Shoreditch Improv Festival 2017, the Crew for Calais Festval Festival at the Arcola Theatre as well as the Bridewell Theatre and the Rosemary Branch Theatre.
Barons Court Theatre, 28A Comeragh Road, South Kensington, W14 9HR
Dates: Tues 12th – Sund 17th December
Time: 7:30pm (ends 8:45pm)