BREVIEW: Absurdly Fabulous: The Improvised Episode @ mac 29.09.17

Absurdly Fabulous: The Improvised Episode @ mac 29.09.17

Words by Charlotte Heap

As an ardent Absolutely Fabulous fan I was apprehensive at how Foghorn Unscripted would reimagine the beloved sitcom in their feature length show, Absurdly Fabulous. Such familiar and favourite characters can be tricky to emulate whilst bringing new laughs, and shows using such well loved source material can depend as much on the audience’s appetite for absurdity as the actors’ talent.

Foghorn Unscripted, a company of local improv comedians and professional actors established in 2011, bases all of its performances on audience suggestion and their own imaginations. Having worked with University of Birmingham’s student improv groups in the past, I hoped that Foghorn Unscripted’s experience would bring a slickness to their show – especially as this particular production had been performed at least once before at mac.

Billed as the ‘episode that was never made’, five actors appeared on the Hexagon’s small stage to present Absurdly Fabulous; with so few female leading comedic roles, having the main characters played by men was an interesting choice. Eddie was excellent, as Foghorn’s Aaron Twitchen brought controlled chaos and quick comedy to the part. Less successful in drag was Patsy, with a focus on her gruff voice and lecherous ways but not enough effort given to the character’s familiar physicality and wit.

The show’s more minor roles were played with varying levels of success by the other troupe members. Saffy suffered somewhat, as Kit Murdoch (Foghorn Unscripted’s founder) played her slightly too saccharine for my taste, with not enough withering sarcasm. Murdoch’s energy was essential to keeping the show moving, but I felt her portrayal of Boris Johnson also missed the mark.

Claire Corfield played Bubbles brilliantly but was underused, whilst Ciaron Allanson-Campbell, noticeably lacking in confidence, was much better cast as the robotic Marshall than as Mother. I was hoping Absurdly Fabulous would elevate the satirical sitcom’s most famous characters, but instead the production delivered caricatures. And whilst Absolutely Fabulous’ trademark catchphrases featured heavily, Foghorn Unscripted were unable to recreate the razor sharp wit of Jennifer Saunders’ writing.

I felt the audience participation element was also more minimal than the Absurdly Fabulous promo material had promised. Scribbled suggestions from some attendees were placed in jars on the stage and incorporated into the show’s framework in a slightly clunky fashion, whilst pictures of audience members were brought into the show after the interval, with a gentle ‘roast’ going down a storm with certain members of the audience. However if you weren’t part of this, and didn’t know what people had been asked to suggest, the participation element was a little confusing and excluding.

The more scripted elements of Absurdly Fabulous landed, again, with varying levels of success. An ‘Alexa’ joke (using pre-recorded responses) was initially inventive and funny, but then felt prolonged and, at points, badly timed. In fact, timing, sound and blocking were all constant issues; the raucous nature of the source material demands a certain level of chaos, but the troupe struggled with minimal props (wig swapping led to awkward delays) and an overdressed set. 

A clothes rail collapsed as too many characters made an overzealous entrance, and whilst Eddie made a joke from this mishap, the moment encapsulated the production’s failure to make good use of mac‘s Hexagon Theatre – an intimate space which can be wonderfully manipulated, but one that leaves little room for error. Costume changes in full view of the audience, and occasional difficulties in hearing what was being said, simply added to the unexpected amateurishness. However, the friendly local audience laughed loudly and a lot. But on a Friday evening, with an £8 ticket price, this Ab Fab purist was left a little disappointed. I laughed a little but I cringed more.

Perhaps my fondness for Absolutely Fabulous (alongside my familiarity with improv in my own professional context) led to especially high expectations, but Foghorn Unscripted promised ‘debauchery, fashion and celebrity’ with Absurdly Fabulous and this wasn’t quite delivered. Billed as the ‘episode that was never made’, I felt the improv troupe found the easy laughs but failed to fully explore the humour and potential inherent in such rich source material.

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