There were 435 improv shows in the Midlands during 2019. That works out at eight shows a week across Birmingham, Nottingham, Leicester and beyond. This is a 10% increase on the 396 shows in 2018, showing that the improv scene continues to grow after a tremendous 50% boost in 2017.
This increase in performances was not evenly spread. There were 30 fewer shows in Birmingham and 20 more shows in each of Nottingham, Leicester and Coventry. These changes meant that the majority of improv shows in the Midlands were outside of Birmingham. This is the first time that has happened, making it easier than ever before for audiences to see improv shows closer to home.
Two new festivals drove the year-on-year increase. These were the Coventry Comedy Festival in May and the Leicester Improv Festival in October. Festivals provide a great opportunity to reach new audiences, encouraging people to take a chance on improv even if they haven’t seen that style of show before.
The first ever Coventry Comedy Festival ran for 10 days, with internationally renowned comedians performing alongside top drawer local talent. This was the best place to see the full spectrum of improv in the Midlands, with seven local acts showcasing their regular shows as part of the event. Click here for a quick review of every show.
The Leicester Improv Festival was another first for 2019. 10 groups performed across a single weekend including the award-winning Squidheart (Best Newcomer – Birmingham Fest) and improv superstars The Committee, whose performers have featured on BBC, ITV & Channel 4. You can see what you missed by clicking here.
Other long-running festivals maintained or increased their improv quotient during 2019. The Birmingham Comedy Festival has been a regular fixture in the comedy calendar for nearly 20 years, but this year was the first to feature an Improv All Dayer. Organised by Fat Penguin Improv Comedy, eight different improv groups came from across the country and performed back-to-back followed by a jam. Click here for to learn more about the acts that appeared.
Similarly, the Leicester Comedy Festival had 30+ shows in February and there were over a dozen acts at the Nottingham Comedy Festival in November. Between them these two events covered musicals, murders and Marvel superheroes. (Full line ups here and here.)
The Buxton Fringe Festival had more improv than previous years, including four performances each from Cast Vs Crew and Between Us. I managed to catch Between Us in their new show later in the year, watching a performance which captivated the audience from beginning to end. The story and characters were realistic and believable, and this realism made it easier for the audience to care about the characters. Read the full review here.
Outside of festivals, a wide range of improv groups visited the Midlands during 2019, with many of those performances being outside the second city. This year saw shows from Spontaneous Potter in January, Noise Next Door in February, Knightmare Live in March and Paul Merton’s Impro Chums in April. The summer was filled with visits from Adam Riches in May, MMORPG in June, Abandoman in July and The Dark Room in August. The final four months of the year saw The Showstoppers, Austentatious, Project 2 and even Santa himself come to perform in the Midlands.
All of this covers the big news stories of 2019, but it’s important to note what stayed the same. The majority of shows came from local groups doing regular performances throughout the year. This is the bedrock for the improv scene in the Midlands, and small shows by homegrown talent continues to find new fans. Here’s what audience members had to say about these shows in 2019:
- Fat Penguin – “Fast paced and energetic” / “Entertaining and funny” / “Great way to spend Thursday evening”
- The Same Faces – “Sheer brilliance” / “Absolutely hilarious” / “Improv done the way it should be done”
- MissImp – “One of the best comedy nights I have ever been to” / “Funny and gloriously bizarre” / “Very sharp, quick witted & incredibly funny”
- Warwick Improv – “A trully memorable and engaging show” / “The perfect mix of comedy and heart” / “Poignant and funny”
- Baron Sternlook’s Improvised Musical – “I wholeheartedly recommend attending” / “Joyful, clever, funny and catchy as hell” / “Absolutely flipping loved it”
As well as these well-established acts, several new groups sprang up during the year and took their first steps towards establishing an audience. I managed to see OK Stop in August, a new team with a fantastic concept for an improv show and lots of intelligent humour throughout. You can read my full review here.
Other new acts include Allison and Wayward Souls in Birmingham, Denise’s 50th in Nottingham and Tiny Stories in Leicester. (Full list of group here.) These additions mean there are now two dozen improv groups across the region, ensuring there will be more great improvisiation to look forward to in 2020 and beyond.