Impro FX: Men With Coconuts

Sun 4th – Fri 23rd August 2013

reviews

Lise McNally

at 21:07 on 22nd Aug 2013

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The Men with Coconuts put themselves and their dignity entirely at the mercy of their audience in this improvised sketch show. Taking suggestions for scenes and weaving stories around them, full audience participation is not only actively encouraged, it’s practically enforced. Wallflowers avoid this show, but if you’re game, this loveable bunch of players will fully reward you for joining in.

The format is nothing new—like other improv arrangements such as ‘Whose Line Is It Anyway?', games are played and challenges met, as the group try to use their quick wits to avoid the humiliation of the silent stage. However, familiar as the games might be (in fact, I’ve seen several played before) what marks this particular show out is the easy confidence and self-effacing good humour with which they meet the challenge.

The rapport between the players is commendable, as they help each other to get the most out of their scenes, and work together to rescue sketches from falling into dead ends. All of them proved themselves quick-witted and commendably energetic throughout, drawing their comic references from popular culture and stereotype which makes the humour accessible to all.

However, standout performances emerge from compere Harry Gooch, and performer Will Naameh. Dancing down the aisles, Gooch is a friendly and fun start to the show, whose joy is infectious. Naameh is the most physically able actor of the ensemble, with a highly expressive face and a wonderful sense of comic timing and plot development. He was also engagingly distant from his own performance, providing a hilarious analysis of his jokes by breaking off into little asides. It got to the point that I was actively hoping he would mess up or fall into cliché, simply because his justifications were so charming.

The format leaves the quality of the sketches slightly at the mercy of the audience. The less funny moments were largely due to the original suggestions proving unsuitable rather than due to a lack of skill or effort on stage. However, the players proved adept at quickly assessing when and how those suggestions could be employed—for example, one skit involves the same scene being enacted in multiple genres. Audience requests for French art house and rom com were fully exploited to the utmost comic effect, while the slightly less promising suggestion “porn” was left to be a quick, and decisive, finale.

I’m not sure what the sound effects add to the production other than providing the company with their name - coconut cues exclusively led to the sketch announcing the sudden arrival of a horse, and other more quiet sounds tended to either be unheard or wilfully ignored by the actors on stage. But the show got on perfectly well by and large without this element, and for free entertainment it is plenty of bang for its buck. I’d been promised nudity, but you can’t have everything.

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Christian Kriticos

at 21:41 on 22nd Aug 2013

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It is clear from the outset that all the performers in ‘Men With Coconuts’ are charming and confident, and their flyer boasts numerous five-star reviews. So it seemed as if it was going to be a highly enjoyable hour, but unfortunately the show wasn’t quite able to live up to the promise. The difficulty with reviewing improv is that every performance is completely different, so maybe I just caught them on an off-day, but it seemed to me as if none of the sketches really reached a coherent punchline and it all just felt a bit messy.

The group’s main selling point seems to be that they perform improv with sound effects (hence the titular coconuts). These effects, however, added nothing, and were virtually unnoticeable most of time. The press release promises a wide range of sounds, including “a chainsaw” and “eerie footsteps” but all I heard was a lot of banging and some honking on an over-sized horn. Only in one game did the effects really become the focus, but in this skit audience members were in charge of creating them and it just became a meaningless wall of sound.

Harry Gooch, the presenter of the show, had a great rapport with the audience members he solicited suggestions from, but all of this banter went on for far too long, and the show could have been improved by getting to the games more quickly. Performing only seven sketches in an hour is too little and risks trying the audience’s patience.

As for the games themselves, they were mostly standard improv fare with a few small flourishes thrown in. A game was conceived around Edward Snowden, which was a neat gag, but there just weren’t all that many laughs and a lot of the humour felt too obvious. Strangely, the most consistent performer, Sam Irving, wasn’t a member of the troupe, but one of the special guests. He was able to hold together the sketches he was in with some swift come-backs, and he performed an impressive range of accents.

For a free improv show ‘Men With Coconuts’ is fairly decent, but there are many other improvised comedy shows of superior quality to choose from at the Fringe.

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