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Mischief Movie Night In review – make a musical with the masters of impro

Brian Logan
·2-min read

They cornered the West End comedy market. They made it on TV. Now Mischief Theatre is coming for your streaming devices, with this online impro show for locked-down audiences. The loose conceit is that host Oscar (Jonathan Sayer) is screening us one of his favourite DVDs. Viewers at home request characters and set-pieces; a “participation panel” (you pay extra for those tickets) contribute the genre. (Several suggest “mockumentary”, which Sayer – uneasily if understandably – rejects.) A cast of seven, plus musicians, then extemporises the “movie” to life.

Related: ‘We try to be devoid of cynicism’: the secret to The Goes Wrong Show's success

The result is great fun – if not proof against the self-delight with which impro is occasionally tinged. Tonight’s movie is called Careless Whisper, an 80s musical about an endangered municipal library. We meet sweetheart staffers Kelly-Ann and Marcus, crooning their literary love by the bookshelves. Then, at Sayer’s request, we flit to city hall, where the mayor, who prefers new-fangled computers to books, plots the library’s destruction.

That’s how it works: Sayer interrupts frequently, to take the mickey out of his co-stars, solicit audience input and dictate what happens next. He’s an engaging, upbeat host, but these interventions can feel a little obstructive and he’s often hooting with laughter before we get the chance to. The improvisers are seldom able to follow their own noses into the story. Sayer steers them towards and celebrates the funny, at the expense, perhaps, of the narratively satisfying.

At least there’s plenty funny to go around, including Mischief supremo Henry Lewis in dual roles as the mayor’s illiterate son Grimes and a competitive dad at a children’s reading workshop. The crap rap battle and body-popping are easy to enjoy too, although the only moment of impro alchemy, when off-the-cuff surpasses anything scripted could achieve, comes when the Machiavellian mayor succeeds in tossing a top hat on to her lover’s head. If Movie Night In is more notable for moment-by-moment comedy than for substance or storytelling, that’s quite enough: it’s a fun hour, capturing on-screen with brio the liveness and spontaneity of real-world impro.

Mischief Movie Night In continues until 14 February.