Watching It’s a Knockout is the comedic equivalent of The Wedding at Cana: after an hour of predictable games, just as I’m about to slip into stupor, Kevin Tomlinson takes to the Pegasus stage and miraculously delivers the show from total mediocrity. Water becomes wine. However, one should not be fooled by this last minute transformation; It’s a Knockout is nothing of the sort.
The first half of the performance consisted of five of Tomlinson’s protégés competing to win the supposedly ‘knock out’ competition (though since all five progressed through every round unscathed, the term knock out seems a little ambitious.) Their names picked at random from a cup, the selected players would be given a game or situation by Tomlinson and work from there, with Tomlinson giving occasional instructions from the side. Unfortunately, the combination of amateur improvisers and Tomlinson’s direction completely robbed the scenes of any spontaneity – the actors would forge some rather dull, predictable conversation until Tomlinson gave them something more marginally interesting to do. It became obvious rather quickly that the actors were dependent on their director for any joke that wasn’t a crude sexual innuendo – all well and good in a sketch about toys unsold on Christmas Eve, but painfully obvious in a ‘third date’ scenario.
The only scene that worked really well was the aforementioned toy shop scene, which involved the finest pair of performers (besides Tomlinson himself) Nicholas Stratton and Abi Hood. Tomlinson was noticeably more hands off in this scene, only intruding once, possibly because he trusted in the visible talents of Hood and Stratton. Hood ended up the winner, though by luck rather than the scoreboard – it was dependent on audience applause, which, in a crowd with a considerable contingent of the actors’ relatives and Tomlinson’s students (he runs an improv course at the Pegasus) was an uncertain medium of judgement at best.
Indeed, the first half of the show felt more like an improv class than a successful demonstration, with Tomlinson’s interruptions serving to point out where it had all gone wrong. Thankfully Tomlinson took over for the second half to show what good improv can be like. He has a theatrical approach, using mask work and audience interaction to bring out funny but personal touches. He worked with one audience member, a woman called Sophia, to bring her father to life, instructing her to use only a bell and a horn to guide him to the truth of the matter. The result was touching and hilarious, but not quite worth sitting through the previous hour and a half for.
Two and a half hours, including an interval, is simply too long for an improv show of this quality, certainly when the best comes at the end after the audience’s energy has flagged. It feels poorly thought out; this was the only second outing of the monthly show and Tomlinson began by announcing a change of format. It needs more changes to determine what it really is: a teaching experience for Tomlinson’s students; a mediocre troupe show; a genuine competition; or fifty minutes of really excellent work from Tomlinson. Until that decision is made, this remains a confused show that packs no punch.
It’s a Knockout continues on the 22nd of November at 8:00pm at the Pegasus Theatre, tickets £8.00.