There were 350 improv shows in the Midlands during 2022. That works out at just under 7 shows a week across Birmingham, Nottingham, Leicester and beyond. This is a 19% decrease on the 435 shows in 2019, the last full year of in-person shows.
This decrease in performances was fairly evenly spread. The key exception was Nottingham, which slightly increased the number of shows since 2019. These changes means that Nottingham is the centre of improv in the East Midlands, comparable in impact to Birmingham in the West Midlands with a similar number of shows across the year. Nottingham is home to one of the stand-out shows of 2022, Dead British, which had a full series transmitted on Union Jack radio at the start of the year.
The first Robin Hood International Improv Festival helped cement Nottingham’s position, with 15 shows over 4 days in September including acts from the UK, Chicago, the Netherlands and elsewhere across the globe. Other notable festivals include the Leicester Comedy Festival in February, Birmingham Improv Festival in September and Nottingham Comedy Festival in November. These remain the easiest way to see a wide range of improv in a short time and a great reason to visit those cities each year.
Outside of festivals, a wide range of improv groups visited the Midlands throughout 2022. Highlights include Abandoman, Any Suggestions Doctor?, Bumper Blyton, The Dark Room, Impromptu Shakespeare, Knightmare Live, MC Hammersmith, The Noise Next Door, Paul Merton’s Impro Chums, Showstopper The Improvised Musical and Spontaneous Potter. In addition, the Royal & Derngate theatre in Northampton helped develop The Improbable Musical, which went on to a short residency in London & will continue to tour in 2023. This reinforces that audiences will see high quality shows with a strong concept outside of the festival experience.
As was the case previously, the majority of shows came from local groups doing regular performances throughout the year. (Full list of groups here.) This remains the bedrock for the improv scene in the Midlands, and small shows by homegrown talent continue to find new fans. Regular shows by just a few groups – Birmingham Improv, MissImp, Box Of Frogs, Canny Funny and LeamProv – were responsible for a quarter of all improv in the Midlands. The final two of these, Canny Funny in Northampton and LeamProv in Leamington Spa, only started their regular nights this year. This demonstrates the improv scene is well developed across the Midlands and will continue to produce new groups and shows in future.