Am I the most informed person to review The Bish Bash Bosh? Probably not. Minus school nativities and village hall pantomimes, I’ve only been to see live theatre once in my life. (Shout out to the amazing This House production at Tobacco Factory Theatres back in March!) So what drew me down one Friday night into the basement theatre of The Bristol Improv Theatre – the UK’s first full-time dedicated improv theatre?
In truth, it was curiosity that dragged me down. I live only a few houses along from the theatre. Walk passed it most days. Tucked back from the street, it’s a sort of blink-and-you’ll-miss-it building. But once you spot the small crowds pouring in most weekends, you won’t be able to stop thinking about it. What is so addictive about improv theatre? Surely, if everyone is just making it all up on the spot, wouldn’t it be awful? (I’m not too proud to admit most first drafts of my articles are totally unreadable.)
So I took the plunge one night and headed down myself to see what this strange and mysterious art form was all about. Performing this night was The Bish Bosh Bash: The Improvised Game Show. As we rushed to take our seats, my first impression was apparent: It was utter chaos. But in the same charming way as the Saturday morning kids’ TV shows that defined my childhood. I loved every second of this two-hour show.
The Bish Bosh Bash is essentially a competition between rival teams (one Bish and the other Bosh, or maybe it is Bash) competing for the adulation of the crowd. Across several rounds, cast members took suggestions from the audience to improvise nonsensical scenes. From silly lyrical songs to rapid-fire impressions of the worst fridges, dog sitters, dungeon masters etc. If you’ve ever watched an episode of Whose Line Is It Anyway? then you might have some idea of what to expect.
A slightly awkward and nervous start soon gave way to infectious roaring laughter, as both the crowd and cast warmed to each other. The two loveable hosts and their infectious, upbeat attitudes charmed everyone in the room, while their ‘teams’ were free to cause utter mischief with their off-the-wall antics. It was in the final round, however, (where both teams were conveniently tied on equal points) that the evening truly hit its peak.
It was here The Bish Bosh Bash troupe truly found their rhythm, all showing off the breadth of their improvisational talents. Taking film genres and themes from audience members, plot lines and characters for four separate stories were all riffed on the fly with devastating effect. To give you a taster of the sort of nonsense you can expect, this evening’s narratives included a mobster’s bloody search for missing rubber ducks and a Teletubbies-haunted horror. Lots of terrible accents and hammy acting. Lots of brilliant comedy bits that will stick in the mind long after the show has finished.
The thought we could not shake throughout, however, was how none of The Bish Bosh Bash is planned. It never missed a beat to keep the pace up. It never missed an opportunity to make me laugh. Even when things didn’t quite go to plan or a joke didn’t quite land, the cast would dust themselves off and get back at it (often making fun of themself in the process).
The Bish Bosh Bash is at its best when it embraces itself. Embraces failure, embraces chaos, embraces curiosity. We could all learn a lesson or two from that. There is something special happening at The Bristol Improv Theatre and The Bish Bosh Bash is a great palace to start for those interested.
The Bish Bosh Bash: The Improvised Game Show returns to The Bristol Improv Theatre on June 2. To learn more about the theatre and other shows, head here.