Review: Degrees of Error at the BIT

 

*****

Renowned for their improvised comedy murder-mystery, ‘Murder She Didn’t Write’, Degrees of Error are a comedy troupe with a deservedly strong reputation. Performing in the Bristol Improv Theatre, however, they abandoned this set-up for a show called ‘The Writers’ Room’, a less specific longform performance. The premise is simple – audience members are offered small pieces of card to come up with a title for a play that does not yet exist, and these cards are picked from a hat to force the performers into crafting a show around a random proffered title.

Herein lies the biggest strength and weakness of the show – the audience engagement is exciting and can lead to some hilarious and off-the-wall ideas, but it also means that the troupe are forced to run with the suggestion even if it has limited scope or is lacking in innate humour. For the performance which I saw, for instance, the chosen suggestion was ‘The New Key’, which did not inspire as a base for an entire performance.

The amount of humour drawn from this somewhat bland title is what sets Degrees of Error apart from other improv groups I have seen. Their show was a varied tale of two adventurers seeking the ‘lost city of Quzcotopia’, a ‘dumbly named but very real place’. The performers rapidly established characters and deftly improvised their way to a conclusion in the South American jungles, via hilarious action sequences and scenes of explorative dialogue. The fact that the troupe were not limited by the suggestions from the cards is a testament to their collective comedic talent, and they certainly accomplished their task of bringing the house down with laughs.

Whilst all performers were quick off the mark and witty, their greatest strength is owning the numerous tropes of an improv show and repurposing them in pursuit of humour. At no point was a suggestion wrought low, instead anything put forward it is seized by all onstage and developed until it’s hilarious. Performers will create backstories on the fly and determine the outlook of another performer in a single sentence, and every single individual took to the task with infectious enthusiasm.

In fact, if I have any criticism it is that the immense talent of the performers means that occasionally a suggestion or potential plot route is lost – at times an individual would offer jokes and lines in the background of a scene with the hopes of taking the scene in a specific direction, but sometimes these suggestions are missed by a performer mid-flow. A highlight example was a surprisingly resilient sea-captain returning from being shot, but taking a while to gain the attention of the other characters. This can be forgiven as every scene was solid (and hilarious), but I felt the occasional pang of sadness when a potential plot thread or comic diversion was passed over.

Overall, Degrees of Error deliver copious amounts of delightful comedy, bursting with confidence and familiarity with the audience, and with some of the best improv-tailored lighting and sound that I have ever seen. Consider them fully recommended.

 

Adam Stanford

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