“It felt like a real murder mystery”

By Steve Griffin, 17th August 2015

One can’t really walk for more than five minutes through Edinburgh’s old town in August without someone trying to get you to see something improvised. From musicals to films, Jane Austen to Dickens: you name it, a troupe of overly excited students will improvise it. However I thought I’d see my first “unique” show of the year in a genre I haven’t yet experienced – an improvised murder mystery.

The improvisation follows a familiar formula: a facilitator gathers ideas and directions from the audience as a basis for the players to act out a show. Why? The facilitator needs help to pitch a last minute script to an imaginary producer, and the improvisation will become that script. You’ll follow…

Our show, thanks to audience suggestions, was to be set in a bank in Tyneside, and the troupe got to it right away with barely a moment’s thought. It was a bit of a slow burner to start with as the players established characters and relationships, but when the imaginary producer called to interrupt the action, new suggestions were given to the actors by the facilitator and off we went again.

I was pleasantly surprised at how the group managed to build tension and possible motives for murder following the first interruption. From exposing fraudulent financial activity, to the old favourite of spurned and jealous lovers, it wasn’t long before it felt like a real murder mystery.

As the audience we get to pick who gets killed half way through, and we’re then able to quiz each player with any question we choose, which they answer on the spot. This section was great as we could directly engage with the characters, and I was able to forget that I was watching a completely improvised show.

While it’s a shame that not every suggestion we made was accepted, and that one player had to spend the majority of the show with a pig attached to his leg (not my idea…), the developments and twists did generally turn the drama up a notch, so it was good to have a facilitator adept at knowing when changes needed to be made.

It wasn’t perfect though: players at times forgot which accent they were supposed to be doing and occasionally even what their own names were. However, it was certainly a nice change from other improvised shows out there and a very promising Edinburgh debut from Foghorn Improv. As the run goes on and the players get more into the swing of things, I’m sure they’ll shake off these basic errors.

Read the review by Steve Griffin on Edinburgh 49.