Did you know there was a regular comedy improv night in West Hampstead? You do now. Every other Tuesday, The Inflatables and sister group StoryBag perform at The Lower Ground Bar (or Bar 269 as it seems to be called now).
The evening kicks off at 7.45 (doors 7.30pm) with 40 minute of “short form” improv. Those of you like me, who grew up on a diet of Whose Line Is It Anyway, will recognise this style of improv. The audience throws out suggestions while a troupe of four comedians runs through various games and scenes at a rapid pace.
After a break, it’s longform time. If you’re not familiar with longform improv, it’s all the rage. Rather than quickfire games, this is a 40 minute long play based loosely around three initial audience suggestions. It’s a different beast to the short-form stuff you may have seen before, but no less enjoyable.
The impresario behind this new night of laughter is local resident, voiceover artist and actor Andrew Gentilli. He realised at drama school that he loved the improvised scenes more than the scripted material. “It’s so much fun to perform and so much fun to watch. It has a certain energy to it”. He fell in love with improv and now he runs two groups of his own – The Inflatables (which is the short-form group) and Story Bag (the long form group).
The Lower Ground Bar may not be the most obvious choice of venue for comedy, although it has hosted a regular events in the past. Andrew lives locally but he wasn’t aware of its venue potential until another local friend suggested it. “It’s got charm, and it suits the raw energy of improv. It’s got a no frills quality that I like. There’s a real intimacy between the audience and the performers, which is really good.”
Improv has exploded in London over recent years. Local resident Phil Lunn, who often provides musical accompaniment to Andrew’s shows (though has yet to grace the ‘stage’ at the Lower Ground Bar), points out that 15 years ago there were probably only 30 or 40 people performing improv in London. “Today it’s 10 times that,” he says. “The audience is bigger too, and there’s more interesting stuff going on.”
Andrew’s quick to quell the idea that his show is too outré. “It’s great to be aware of the trends in improv, but it’s also important to have an eye on what a fresh audience will enjoy. I’ve always loved short form and that’s fallen out of fashion as people went for long form and free form and whatever form but it’s now coming back into fashion. Regardless of that, I love watching it and performing it. As an actor I love having the audience throw curveballs at you.”
If you want to throw some curveballs at Andrew and his comedy friends, then get yourselves to the Lower Ground Bar with a crisp £5 note in your pocket. Next one’s tonight.