Review: Paul Merton’s Impro Chums, The Riverfront, Newport

There’s nothing like winding down from a frantic week with a good laugh and that’s exactly what happened on Friday evening as Paul Merton’s Impro Chums performed to a packed house at Newport’s Riverfront Theatre.

Avoiding the current trend to joke about the tortuous and tedious subjects of Brexit and Donald Trump, Paul along with Lee Simpson, Richard Vranch, Suki Webster, Mike McShane and accompanist Kirsty Newton delivered over two hours of quick-witted, fast thinking comedy.

The evening warmed up with Paul tickling the audience funny bone with a selection of his own and the comic legend, Max Miller’s jokes. All got the Newport crowd in good spirits (particularly the Miller jokes which although slightly risqué  still stand the test of time, despite been over 80 years old!).

Then it was straight into the improvised comedy, all inspired by audience suggestions. The first was a story competition in which all Impro Chums (conducted by Kirsty) would take it in turns to tell a story about a historical figure and an unrelated object, without stumbling over their words or making a mistake. The eventual scenario involving Emperor Nero and a balloon, quickly saw Paul vanish from the competition allowing the audience to familiarise themselves with the personalities of Lee, Suki, Richard and Mike. Their quick-fire delivery encompassed the fall of the Roman Empire and Nero’s diet coinciding with the rise of Nero’s balloon and a new coffee-chain. Suki would ultimately be declared the winner.

Paul Merton’s Impro Chums played Newport’s Riverfront Theatre on June 7, 2019Paul Merton’s Impro Chums played Newport’s Riverfront Theatre on June 7, 2019

Paul Merton’s Impro Chums played Newport’s Riverfront Theatre on June 7, 2019

Another impro highlight included a game in which Paul, placed in the unlikely scenario of a Yoga class, had to explain his new job to friends while at the same time, guess what it was himself from a variety of clues given to him. On this occasion, Paul carved musical instruments out of Marrows with his toenails for NASA while wearing a Welsh Tartan kilt!

The laughter continued as Lee gave a gobbledegook description of his new pastime of Bog Snorkelling combined with Pro-Wrestling, translated simultaneously by Paul.  Mike and Suki then demonstrated how a couple can develop a relationship working in a coffee shop in the style of horror movie, spaghetti western, Disney musical and Opera genres.

In the second half, Richard led further suggested impro scenarios from the audience inspired by locations, dialogue or ludicrous professions. It was fascinating to see how the Impro Chums delivered original unscripted comedy on the spot without the constant use of expletives (although a couple of carefully triggered ones were present) while simultaneously creating genuine belly laughs

Scenes around a Barry White song performed in a Rhino enclosure, a dinner date with a half chicken/woman, squirrels doing dressage and a lost Shakespeare play – Piglet – set on the River Usk, kept the Impro Chums busy, while Kirsty provided atmospheric musical accompaniment to match each situation.

The applause at the end of the show, left me wanting to demand an encore. Maybe that could have been an impro first? No doubt, the talent the Impro Chums displayed on their Newport debut could have kept on going! Certainly there’s potential for a return visit – till the next time – unique comedy memories shall endure!