Jim Henson’s Puppet Improv - Adults Only: Festival Fringe Review

I’d book tickets to ‘Jim Henson’s Puppet Improv - Adults Only’ based on the name only, figuring it must be good. Luckily I managed to enjoy this show, at the Assembly Hall on Edinburgh’s Mound Place, during the 2 for 1 offer on Festival Fringe tickets. The show did not disappoint and provided an hour of total hilarity and I left with up-most respect for very funny, very quick thinking and extremely talented puppeteers.

Exterior of the Assembly Hall venue for the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Stage for Jim Hensons Puppet Improv - Adults Only at the Assembly Hall, Edinburgh

New Collage Quad, just below the steps into the Assembly Hall, is set up with a mobile ticket office and bar. Here we enjoyed some Magners at £3.20 a bottle, it wasn’t chilled but they did have ice for the glass. By 8.20pm, the queue for the show was snaking out of the entrance to the quad and down the mound. When we were finally allowed into the venue it became something of a stampede with some persons abandoning all respect and manners to storm up the steps, presumably because they were so desperate for prime seats. I just walked up at normal pace and still got excellent seats in the stalls, that were packed to capacity. Some persons were seated in the balcony, but not all seats were taken, and I think tickets for these can’t have been released.

The stage for Jim Henson’s Puppet Improv had a static building background and a suspended camera pointing directly at it’s centre. Two very large screens stood either side of the stage, together with numerous smaller monitors. As the first puppet described you actually see two shows. The first is on the TV screens and this is just the puppets in view i.e. what would be broadcast if watching at home. The second is ‘real life’ i.e. you can actually see the puppeteer stood on stage with his hands controlling the puppet, in fact some puppets are controlled by two persons, with one taking the hands and the other the body.

The whole cast for this Adults only Jim Henson’s Puppet Improv were American, including the presenter for the evening who took audience suggestions and directed proceedings throughout. Seven men and one woman continually picked up puppets from the huge collection at the rear of the stage and donned various alter egos and voices to create characters that, at times, were rip-roaring hilarious, even if the subject matter was often risque. In fact the presenter pointed out the emergency exits at one point, in case God himself decided to strike the venue with lightning.

Each sketch took a pre-defined scenario such as a translator and a foreign ‘expert’, whose nationality and topic of expertise is supplied by the audience. Our audience chose Azerbaijan, which the lady puppeteer interpreted into Russian, and the ‘expert’ was a proctologist specialising in anal prolapses - well it was for adults only! Other sketches included a guy with a bad, if not totally illegal, habit, some sausages doing the River-Dance and a first date by the audience suggested River Liffy, where the girls internet lover is actually three aliens. Another hilarious sketch involved audience members shouting out random numbers that corresponded to sound effects on the musicians keyboard. These were played throughout a bank robbery sketch and had to be incorporated on the fly by the puppeteers - they did this admirably and hilariously. The show ended with a ‘mini movie’ in hell where the hilarious Satan was a mad, camp alien who was storming around saying “Isn’t this place fabulous!?!”. A yellow bird called George Bush (again directed by the audience) stormed into the sketch, promising to spread “democracy” in hell. My only surprise was it had taken a full 60 minutes for the subject matter to turn political.

The crew of Jim Hensons Adult Puppet Improv left the stage to rapturous applause and although one or two audience members were left blushing, most were in slight pain at the amount of laughter this show had generated. I was of the latter and was pleased that I’d been in attendance. These were talented people, whose adaptability to audience suggestion, quick thinking and sharp humour was a pleasure to witness. Obviously some sketches were funnier than others, but I think a lot of this is down to the audience suggestions, that at times were a little restrictive and, as one would expect, often skewed towards anatomical, below the belt’ humour.

“Puppet Up” is what the presenter had the audience shouting, and I think Jim Hensons Adult Puppet Improv will be a major draw during it’s run at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. The Edinburgh Blog is happy to highly recommend it, and also to note that a children’s show is offered by the Jim Henson company - I just hope their are no slips of the tongue by the puppeteers! The only criticism would be the full ticket price of £17.50 - £20, which I think is rather hefty, but if you’re happy with that I don’t think you will be disappointed: this is the world renowned Jim Henson crew and they’re total professionals, who have travelled across the pond for this entertaining and original show.

Jim Henson’s Puppet Improv - Adults Only runs at the Assembly Hall until the 20th August.

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