This is what proper improv looks like. There isn't anything wrong, per se, with the crop of student improvisers sharpening their extracurricular tools at the Fringe. There's certainly enjoyment in seeing laid bare the spinning cogs of quick young minds feeling for the warp and weft of comedy. But London improv 'school' The Free Association have clearly graduated from this elementary stage. In as much as the UK has an equivalent to the professionalised improv of Chicago's Second City or Upright Citizens Brigade, the FA are it.
Perhaps more than anything, there's a sense that this set of skilled improvisers have the audience in safe hands. The lineup changes nightly, but tonight's troupe—Chris Gau, Graham Dickson, Mike Orton-Toliver, Briony Redman, David Elms, Jon Broke, Alison Thea-Skot and Naomi Petersen—are snappy and confident all. Especially Chris Gau. There's a neat structure to the flights of invention: each set sees a special guest from outside the FA kick things off with an extempore monologue upon which the pros then riff. "Shit, improvisation is hard!" giggles Spencer Jones tonight. It's a nice contrast, and the surreal fumbling Jones dashes off is no less fun than the assured theatrics that the team then develop.
And now for the small print. Improv has to be judged on its own merit, and I'm contractually obliged to employ at some point the phrase "mixed bag". The team benefit tonight from a Saturday night audience primed to laugh at the mere sight of someone being headbutted in the fanny (erm, you had to be there). Some skits work better than others. That's the game. The FA just play it in a better league than most.