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Review: Racing Minds – Komedia – 13/09/2015

Racing Minds are a long-form improv quintet consisting of Tom Skelton, Dougie Walker, Chris Turner, Dylan Townley, and Daniel Roberts. The group have sold out their Edinburgh runs since 2013 and have gathered an impressive array of four and five star reviews from publications such as Three Weeks, Broadway Baby, and the Edinburgh Evening News. Even with such hype, tonight’s performance – the first of fourth monthly appearances at the Komedia – did not disappoint: Racing Minds were fun, intelligent, and (most importantly) hilarious.

The conceit of the show is that a doddery upper class grandfather (Skelton) “can’t quite remember” anything about a story he’s attempting to regale assembled family and staff with. The mood of the evening (unhinged aristocratic mania… if that’s a thing?) is set upon entering the room. One finds Skelton, Walker, Turner, and Roberts roaming around in character, offering “sweeties” to audience members and generally breaking the ice whilst Townley supplies an eerie soundtrack from a stage-bound keyboard. This interaction eases the audience into the idea of participation whilst alleviating the average awkward pre-gig small talk that accompanies finding spare seats and getting drinks in. Once everyone who’s going to attend appears to have arrived the group make their way to stage. There’s a quick dimming and brightening of the stage lights, the grandfather reveals his problem, and the night’s entertainment begins in earnest.

It’s the grandfather’s “can’t quite remember” that the show revolves around. A butler is sent into the crowd to ascertain the tale’s name and its details: for example, the protagonist’s claim to fame. This method of harvesting material from the audience – along with the familiarity garnered by the pre show roaming – sidesteps the usually clunky and awkward start of improv shows artfully. To give an idea of the material available to the group, tonight’s tale received the name “The Last Time We Ate Spam” and its protagonist was the discoverer of the Australian Kangaroo. However, from these disparate suggestions an entire hour long narrative including scene changes, subplots, rounded characters, and a presidential monologue was pulled together. Not only was it impressive in its construction, it was also hugely entertaining.

Highlights of tonight’s show include an English astronaut who returns to earth for hot water (how else will he have tea?), a pair of bickering northern pensioners who conclude that the only way to revive respect for their generation is the faking of a “space war”, and a running joke revolving around a rock/Dwayne Johnson pun. Although in lesser hands these absurd ideas could have fallen flat, the clear joy in their creation was infectious and even made occasional corpsing and breaking of character charming – it was as if one was in on the joke.  Great praise must also be given to Townley who resided behind his keyboard for the performance, deftly sound-tracking the performance, giving it extra momentum and colour (e.g., effortlessly pulling out the riff from the Rembrant’s “I’ll Be There for you” when an extended Friends reference is made). As if this were not enough, after the main performance there was the optional treat of seeing Skelton’s show Football (a practice that the group will be maintaining at subsequent shows with rotating members presenting their solo goods). Skelton demonstrated a staggering range of voices and characters, my personal favourite being a particularly disquieting tea lady.

In sum, Racing Mind’s coming performances at the Komedia – particularly given the six-pound concession costs – are shows that no self-respecting students with funny bones should miss.

Racing Minds shall be returning to The Komedia on October 11th, November 8th, and December 6th

Alex Mason

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