Four middle-aged men walk out onto a stage in a tent at Gluttony, which is like a less-hectic-and-slightly-further-south Garden of Unearthly Delights. The only props they have are cheap plastic chairs and the only lines they’ve learnt are ‘welcome to the show’. After that it could end up anywhere. Improvisational comedy is always risky on the stage, but these four veterans of the art are very good at what they do, and Whose Line Is It Anyway? is a show you could see over and over again without any fear of hearing the same gag twice.
Their faces will be familiar to fans of British comedy, with ringleader Stephen Frost having been glimpsed in episodes of Blackadder and Mr Bean. Joining him are regulars Andy Smart and Steve Steen, as well as Ian Coppinger, whom I discovered a few years ago after hearing him tell an amazing story about an airport during a festival spot (type his name into YouTube – if there’s foreign subtitles you’re in the right place).
The four performers have all worked on a stage show at the Comedy Store in London, which has been running twice a week for twenty-seven years. This show then inspired the British and American Whose Line Is It Anyway?, and the performers have taken the show all around the world, with the current tour visiting China and The Philippines, as well as travelling all around Australia.
The show relies on the audience yelling out suggestions that the performers will then use to create a scene. Those familiar with the TV shows may be expecting audience members to end up on stage, but the four men use the words we yell out as a starting point and then head off into whatever direction they choose. They’re obviously having a lot of fun trying to slip each other up, often by forcing another member of the team to burst into song. The hour flies by, and while you want them to keep going, the brief time you have means the sketches can never outstay their welcome. The show is finished by nine o’clock, and is a great way to start a night at the Fringe with a smile on your face.
See the Ian Coppinger video here