FRINGE REVIEW: "Improv D&D"? Yeah, that's a Hit.
Full disclosure: I went into this show with some bias. Improv comedy and Dungeons and Dragons seems like the perfect marriage, since D&D is an extremely entertaining activity that relies heavily on improvisation. But, when I saw Improv D&D a couple of years ago, I was disappointed by a show that felt like decent improv with some character sheets, capes and the occasional dice roll used to justify its association with a game beloved by so many. So, as a part of that passionate and devoted fandom, I was curious to see if this latest incarnation of the show would live up to the ‘real’ thing.
The show opened with some big nerd energy from the Dungeon Master of Ceremonies, Scott McArdle, as he introduced the performers and rolled out the requisite ‘who here has played Dungeons and Dragons before?’ schpeel. Helpful handouts detailing some of the show’s esoteric terminology had been provided for the uninitiated at the door. Not only did this aid in bringing in the newcomers, it also helped the show sidestep one of the things that bogs down almost every (non-performative) D&D game: the discussion of rules.
Yes, this show is D&D lite. As it absolutely has to be. While it’s an improbably fun game, D&D is hardly much of a spectacle. So anyone putting it up on stage is required to take some liberties. But Improv D&D captures the spirit of the game. For one, it’s really funny. But it also revels in the tropes and clichés the game, from the absurdly and spontaneously named characters to the staggered combats and abundant British accents. They even split the party. And, while this may be a no-no in the game itself, it proved to be a masterstroke here as it allowed the Dungeon Master to keep things fresh by handily swap between scenes when the pace started to lag.
The show’s in-house pianist aided in keeping the show flowing with a jaunty soundtrack. They also provided excellent accompaniment to the bard’s frequent songs, which were probably the highlight of the night. While the players (and NPCs) seemed to have varying levels of familiarity with the source material, all of them gave excellent performances that proved they were clearly enjoying themselves. Special mention has to be made of McCardle as the Dungeon Master, though, who grounded the show while living up to his title.
The only real downside was the venue. The Lounge at The Globe made a serviceable setting, but I couldn’t help thinking of the first time I saw this show in a tent at Fringe 2017. The actual stage and ability to use lighting cues had added a sense of theatre that really elevates a show like this. But with all 5 of their performances already sold out by opening night, hopefully they might find themselves in a more suitable venue in the future.
I had a great time at this show. It brought some of my favourite things about the hobby to the stage without ever feeling exclusive of those who’d just come to see some improv comedy. And this is what D&D is all about: having fun and getting involved. It’s a hobby I recommend everyone try out if they get the chance. And if you don’t, then checking out Improv D&D might be the next best thing.
4 out of 5 stars
Improv D&D’s remaining season is currently sold out, but keep an eye on their page for future shows.
Header image credit: David Cox Media