The Yes Queens review – digital crowd pipe in impro oxygen

Brian Logan
·2 min read

How do you do impro without an audience? That Covid has made life unforgiving for standup comics is well documented. But spare a thought for improvisers, to whom a live audience is like oxygen, even more so than standups. For this livestreamed gig from Battersea Arts Centre’s Grand Hall in London, the Yes Queens have arranged an alternative air supply, in the form of big screens displaying the faces – and the suggestions for each new game – of their watching audience.

“Please keep your camera on and show your support, just as you would at a regular gig!” urges the pre-show email – disingenuously, given no one in a real comedy audience expects to stay visible and on display throughout the show. But fair enough, if it helps generate the performer-audience rapport on which impro feeds. And it does seem to work: this six-strong team deliver an hour’s extemporised sketch comedy that’s none the worse for having a digital-only crowd.

It helps that some of the UK’s biggest-hitting improvisers are on stage, including Showstoppers regulars Pippa Evans and Ruth Bratt. The latter supplies a highlight duetting with Susan Harrison on a romantic ballad in a creative writing workshop, a number (music supplied by Yshani Perinpanayagam) that wouldn’t sound out of place in a bona fide West End musical. Evans takes the lead in the closing skit, a charity single for a made-up charity: the National Society for the Prevention of Kindness to Strangers.

Credit to someone in the stay-at-home audience for that one. However, another crowdsourced moment – a whole scene scripted by lines volunteered by the audience – gets filed in the debit column: a parade of non-sequiturs, it doesn’t fly. In an evening that cleaves to the familiar Whose Line-style format, you get neither more nor fewer laughs than you’d expect from that impro standard, Three-Headed Expert – a trifurcated chatshow guest expounding on tennis-playing stick insects.

Harrison steals several of her scenes, nailing the blunt audience asides and northern bathos required to perform in the style of an Alan Bennett play. It’s an easy-to-enjoy hour, cheerfully proving that impro needn’t be cowed by Covid.