One of the joys of reviewing an improv show is knowing I am free to give away the ending without spoiling the fun. The odds of the talented improvisers from Do Not Adjust Your Stage (DNAYS) getting anywhere near repeating themselves from one show to the next must be billions to one. So, in the final moments of their latest show, three pirates found themselves looking for a triple X on a London Underground map. Their goal? Digging up The Harvest Festival Scarecrow’s magic penis. Where? Cockfosters, of course.
This makes the evening sound unsophisticated, which does everyone involved a disservice. The evening was an altogether cleverer affair than ending on a knob joke would suggest. At one point, things turned bi-lingual as we met Gustav Eiffel. He was at pains to point out he was, as a person, a separate entity to his famous Parisian tower mind you. Despite having girders for feet. I’m not sure if this was before or after an alcoholic Santa squared up to the Tooth Fairy in an argument over union representation. I share these things to give you an insight into the flights of fantasy that were conjured up before us. Best not overthink it.
DNAYS’ Wunderkammer differentiates itself from other improv performances by using guest lecturers who give short informative speeches as prompts. This adds to the evening’s sense of occasion and avoids the need for audience suggestions which I always find tiresome in traditional improv shows. On a practical note, it also neatly bisects the evening into two halves. The guest speeches are different every night. Your reviewer enjoyed Helen O’Hara, Editor at Large of Empire Magazine, who used her ten minutes to share the fairly shocking story of female directors’ representation in the Hollywood Studio system and subtly plug her book on the subject. Transport YouTuber Geoff Marshall shared his love of the Crossrail project with irresistible trainspotter enthusiasm. Just don’t call the train route a new London Underground line in his earshot unless you want a lengthy lecture on why you’re wrong.
The speeches might have felt a gimmick if the DNAYS crew had not genuinely referred back to them throughout the rest of the night. This works well as Wunderkammer isn’t the long-form improv that might parody a whole Jane Austen novel or create a whole musical based on one theme. It is genuine sketch comedy full of jokes that, brilliantly, rattles on at breakneck pace. Some gags land better than others but there honestly wasn’t a single dud all evening. When did you last say that about a written and rehearsed sketch show, let alone about material plucked from the air? Part of the team’s skill is clearly the ability to spot when a punchline has landed and to intervene and move on to the next scene. They obviously trust each other implicitly and it’s a joy to see a well-oiled machine serve silliness so effectively.
A bit of googling reveals Wunderkammer is a German term for the ‘Cabinets of Curiosities’ that emerged in the 16th Century as forerunners to natural history museums and collections. There’s a delicious irony to the choice of a historic title. There is nothing that feels newer or fresher than well-performed improv, surely? It’s such a shot in the arm of positive energy that I can highly recommend for these troubled times.
Wunderkammer plays at Camden People’s Theatre until 5 March> Further information about this and upcoming shows can be found on the company’s website via the below button.
Created and produced by: Do Not Adjust Your Stage