‘This is not “Whose Line is it Anyway?” says Clive Anderson, host of this mere improv gathering at the Edinburgh Fringe, at the top of the show. ‘It’s not the TV show,’ he repeats. ‘I have to get the legal situation out of the way.’ Well, it’s spookily similar.
‘What Does the Title Matter Anyway?’ (the name was changed from ‘Whose Live Show is it Anyway?’ after a strongly-worded letter from Hat Trick Productions’s lawyers) is a real blast from the past. Even the set looks like it’s come straight from a Channel 4 cupboard marked ‘generic ’90s’, with its tall, white stools that Anderson describes as ‘lavatorial’.
The cast rotates each evening, but for tonight’s opening gig our four intrepid improvisers are Greg Proops, Colin Mochrie, Josie Lawrence and Stephen Frost, who have all (coincidentally, of course) been ‘Whose Line?’ regulars. They play classic improv games in rounds titled slightly different to the TV show’s, for obvious reasons.
Improv’s come a long way since the ‘Whose Line?’ days. There are lots of fresh, new formats and inventive troupes, many playing this year’s Fringe. But while ‘WDTTMA’s tomfoolery is old school, it’s a joy to watch these veteran improvisers at work on the same stage.
Mochrie sets the tone in the first scene where the players can only talk in questions. When two audience member’s suggestions for the scene’s setting are combined – a brothel and a dentist – he quickly fires out ‘Which hole do you need filled?’ In fact, Mochrie and Proops – both receiving rock star welcomes from the 1,000-strong McEwan Hall crowd – are the sharpest tonight, both sputtering out quick-witted quips.
The two North Americans receive the biggest laughs, but Josie Lawrence keeps the show flowing. When her fellow improvisers are bamboozled by audience members’ obscure suggestions she always has a novel idea. She also stops the show from being a complete shambles, helping a slightly confused Anderson remember the formats. ‘We usually take an idea from the audience,’ she has to remind him at one point.
So ‘What Does the Title Matter Anyway?’ is definitely not associated with a similarly titled TV show. But for fans of ‘Whose Line?’ it’s a chance to relive improv’s heyday, with the added bonus of being joyfully funny. Anderson’s gang of fools are still effortlessly talented players, even if the host sometimes needs reminding how to play.
‘What Does the Title Matter Anyway?’ is at Underbelly, Bristo Square, 9pm, Aug 8-19 only