Improvised comedy is in resurgence in the UK, led by long-form, themed narrative shows such as Showstoppers (an improvised musical) and Austentatious (an improvised Jane Austen novel).
There’s since been an influx of themed shows tackling the likes of Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, Sherlock Holmes and most other popular culture you can think of, showing there’s much more to the genre that Whose Line Is It Anyway type games.
We can now add to that list ‘murder mystery’ as Cambridge Improv Factory come to the ADC Theatre in Cambridge with the Agatha Christie-inspired Murder Most Unexpected.
We spoke to Michelle Golder from the team.
What can audiences expect from Murder Most Unexpected?
Is this a trick question? It’s entirely improvised, so we will be making it up every night. However, there will definitely be a murder, a cool jazz-age setting, a line-up of suspects, a detective, and lots of laughs! Our cast is endlessly creative, quite mad, fearless, and a bit naughty. So an hour or so of pure escapist entertainment would sum it up nicely.
Why did you feel the murder mystery genre was the right format for an improv show?
As a troupe we like to alternate between short form (Whose Line is it Anyway) type improv and longer form, storytelling shows. We hadn’t tried this particular format, where the skeleton of a plot is set (murder, detective, arrest), but one of our members had done it at the Edinburgh Fringe a few years ago, so he sold us on giving it a go. We think it will appeal to lots of people – honestly, who isn’t fantasizing about murder these days?
How have previous shows gone? Any stand-out audience suggestions?
Awesome!! We haven’t performed this format yet, but our last appearance at Thirsty doing a sketch format show called Life is a Sketchbook was huge fun. In this format (technically called an Armando), the audience gives us a word, one of us performs a monologue inspired by it, and then the whole cast riffs off the monologue in sketches. The best audience suggestion was “cactus,” which morphed into stories of incompetent plantsitters, bookcases which become microwaves, and very, very strange looking cats.
What does it take to get into the mind of a killer/victim?
Let’s just say that we now understand why real detectives put so much time into figuring out a motive. The audience chooses both our victim and our killer, so our job is to find a compelling reason for why the character who seemed perfectly indifferent to the victim one scene ago is now stuffing them into a boiling hot tub.
Improv seems to be on the rise again with West End shows for Austentatious and Showstoppers and national tours for the likes of Paul Merton. What do you see as the genre’s appeal?
It’s risky without being actually dangerous. As Jerry Seinfeld said, most people would rather be in the coffin than giving the speech at a funeral, so I think people like seeing others do a thing they might be terrified to try – and surviving. The audience wants you to succeed (we all want something to go right for a change), so when you do they are the happiest audience anyone could ask for. There’s also the element of trying to figure out how it works. It seems very impressive, and it does take a lot of practise, but it’s based on a set of skills anyone can learn. And we love Paul Merton and both those groups you’ve named, by the way. Over the 10 years we’ve been together, our members have trained or done masterclasses or workshops with members of some of the world’s most famous improv groups, including Showstoppers, Loose Moose, The Nursery, Baby Wants Candy, and Mischief Theatre, before they became international stars with their scripted comedy, The Play That Goes Wrong.
What else can we look out for from Cambridge Improv Factory?
Over the summer we’re festival bound but we’ll be back in Cambridge next fall with another edition of Life is a Sketchbook. We’re still looking for the best venue – always a struggle in Cambridge, so if anyone has a suggestion for a 50-100 seat venue that will work for comedy, do get in touch. We are also bookable for festivals and events. You can find us on the usual social media and on our website, improvfactory.com