Theatre Critic and Journalist

Review: The Friendship Experiment, Underbelly

Review: The Friendship Experiment, Underbelly

Published on Culture Wars, 24.08.2010

When it’s done well, improvisation can be a joy to watch. Everything just seems to click into place. Stories know exactly where they need to go. Gags get hit and problems unravel. Yet there’s always struggle present in the face of an emerging narrative, which makes it all the more enjoyable. Even its failures can delight.

Done badly, however, it’s excruciating and it’s at this that Big Wow, a chipper double act reminiscent of The Right Size, aim their potshots with a spoof improv show about friendship in which our suggestions never seem to satisfy the errant performers.

They begin with a generic unexpected phone call. One talks of that thing that happened “way back when.” The other nods in agreement, but only wants to know why the other’s called. Their characters’ defining features turn backflips: civil partners spring into life, accents meander around the globe, IQs pogo up and down. Each commitment made sends the plot beyond the other’s control. It’s a hilariously acute assault on the pretentious indulgences of theatre, delivered exquisitely by Matt Rutter and Tim Lynskey, infuriated and puppyish respectively.

Having settled on a solid Scouser and a mishap-prone Mancunian, they embark on an On The Road style adventure to Blackpool for a tumultuous stag do.
There’s a relentlessness to Big Wow’s style, however, that just tips the scales. For all that their exasperated straight man and downtrodden goof formula is perfectly honed, we’re never given a chance to breathe under a barrage of chaotic gags. Paradoxically, with a bit of down time, the laughter would feel ceaseless.
As it is, they get stuck, reverting to a Pirandello-esque revelation, in which Matt discovers the script. In attempting clever-clever critique the pair only wind up in a tailspin, from which, eventually, they have to eject themselves for the sake of a conclusion.
But that shouldn’t take away from the pleasures of watching Big Wow. With more refinement, they should prove something special. And by that, I mean West End special.

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