Review: Mischief Movie Night, The Pleasance, Edinburgh Fringe ★★★☆☆

by Chris Dobson

Following a successful run at the Arts Theatre in London from 2017 to 2018, acclaimed comedy group Mischief Theatre has brought its improv show Mischief Movie Night to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe this year. Its venue is the enormous Pentland Suite in Edinburgh International Conference Centre and you immediately get the impression that this is big-budget improv, with impressive lighting design by David Howe and incredible improvised music from Ed Zanders and Oliver Izod. Mischief deserves especial praise for the emphasis it places on accessibility, with certain performances signed (16 August), captioned (18 August), audio described (23 August) and relaxed (24 August).

Dave Hearn & Company in Mischief Movie Night Photo: Pamela Raith

The joy of improvised comedy is its spontaneity, but one drawback is obviously that the actors are somewhat limited by the suggestions thrown out by audience members every night. No two shows will be alike, therefore, but audiences can be assured that they will get energetic and hilarious performances from a varied cast of actors. Leading the evening’s proceedings is Jonathan Sayer, who acts as a kind of host or moderator. The concept is this: Sayer has a vast collection of every film on DVD, and no matter how outlandish a plot and title the audience devises, the cast will be able to re-enact this movie in the space of an hour. It’s funny and unpredictable, but more use could have been made of audience suggestions, which are only really called for at the beginning of the show.

Rhyanna Alexander-Davis & Henry Lewis in Mischief Movie Night. Photo: Helen Maybanks

Also, although the function of a moderator like Sayer is to provide some structure to the evening’s chaos, and occasionally also to push actors out of their comfort zones and try new things, the fact that he is constantly ‘pausing’ the show with his remote to provide a metacommentary jolts the audience out of the flow of the show, which ends up slowing down the actors and reducing their level of spontaneity.

No matter when they go and no matter how uproarious or tame the audience suggestions might be, audiences are bound to have an excellent time watching Mischief Movie Night. Nevertheless, with so many improv shows on at the Fringe, this one lacked the intimacy of some of the smaller, pub theatre improv performances you can find for half the price or even for free. Mischief Movie Night is certainly slick and accomplished, but some people might prefer it if it were a little more chaotic and silly.

Mischief Movie Night is at The Pleasance until Saturday 27 August

Chris Dobson is a freelance journalist from the North of England. He now lives in North London and is passionate about theatre, film and literature.