It can be difficult reviewing shows on the first day of Fringe previews. Technically anyone who has said they are happy to be reviewed should be ready… but how many really are?
But if you’re using suggestions from the crowd as the basis of your show then every day is a first day. The only thing that improv troupe The Noise Next Door need to do by way of rehearsal is a bit of warming up, and on this opening afternoon they’re showing no signs of rust. The fact that they’ve been working as a team for six years shows they’re a tight group without a weak link.
They appear on stage in their trademark garb: all black but for a different coloured tie each. And though I say there are five members, there are technically seven this year; as the audience enter the room a Statler-and-Waldorf-style puppet duo wearing the same look banter with each other and anyone who might come too close while two of the full size members of the troop serenade us.
They kick off proper with a song, a fitting display of their talents as each one adopts an attribute of the audience’s ‘perfect partner’ – on this occasion that turns out to be a female spy with four legs who likes Pokemon and can pull a condom over her head. The routine is perfectly choreographed and expertly sung and though some of the impromptu lyrics are a touch predictable, the strained exclamation, ‘I can’t breathe!’ from Charlie as the personification of ‘pulled-condom-over-head’ is simple but effective. Of course a song is an effective and dynamic way to get the energy up from the start in a typical Fringe sweat box of a venue on an unusually sunny day.
The key improv games are familiar ones, suggestions from the crowd inform a scene and, on occasion, audience members are plucked out of their seats to help out. But Noise differ in that they have created their own games from the premise. An early game sees not one scene but five (though I may have lost count) cutting across each other thick and fast. A borrowed mobile phone from the crowd begins the story of Winnie the Pooh entering into a text exchange and a subsequent trip to Berlin and audience drawings inspire a whole ballet.
There are plenty of endearing asides between the players drawing you into their world; they good naturedly pull each other up commenting, ‘can’t believe you got away with that joke’ and purple-tie Tom self referentially comments that ‘I know way too much about this for a 26-year-old man’ as he displays an impressive knowledge of A.A. Milne’s most famous creation.
Throughout the show some of the off-the-cuff quips are obvious – an indie song about a relationship with a gruff lady fire fighter includes a fair few gags about sliding down poles – but the acting, musical and choreography skills more than make up for it.
Plus there are plenty of moments of sublime comedy in the show; the improvised ballet imprints a mental image of two of the players in leotards that you’re not likely to forget in a hurry, a ‘serious’ scene policed by the crowd armed with water pistols ordered to shoot when they spot inevitable corpsing from the performers is great fun and the final skit featuring Obama in a lift with some magical characters from myth is as fantastic as it is simple.