Sasha Ellen: Character Building Experience – Museum of Comedy, London

Reviewer: Adam Stevenson

Sasha Ellen: Character Building Experience is an improvisational comedy that takes the form of a Dungeons and Dragons quest. There are spells, there are monsters, and there’s a twenty-sided die, so results may vary.

Sasha Ellen is Games Master. Her job is to set up the story, keep the players on course and decide the character’s fates with a roll of her trusty D20. After a little audience warm-up, she introduces a panel of three comedians and the characters they will play. In this case; Katie Pritchard is Challenging Collin, a knight with shapeshifting abilities, Mark Cram is Spearmint Poppet, a thief with a disembodied ‘wandering hand’, and Sid Singh is a wizard also called Sasha Ellen.

Each comedian has a character sheet listing peculiar powers (such as ‘tele-ke-sneez-is’, the power to control small objects by sneezing) and also a description of their character. It’s quickly clear that the panel haven’t read these sheets, which leads to long pauses while they scan through their abilities to solve problems on the quest. None of the panel gets into character either, which loses a lot of the laughter that could come from one of the comedians acting against their own type as well as losing a lot of the fun of role-playing in general, the fun of playing a role.

The primary, and much mocked, first rule of improv is that no one can block anyone else, whatever arises out of the improv must be developed and built upon in the spirit of ‘yes and’. That doesn’t really happen this night, each comedian riffs on their own, without listening all that much to each other or the Games Master. It sounds silly to say that they don’t take the comedy DnD campaign seriously enough, but they don’t and the story is repeatedly bogged down (and not necessarily in the pool of quicksand).

It’s a shame because Ellen has clearly set up a mini-campaign with fun details and lots of room for invention. This story includes a holiday surrounding plucking a giant’s nose-hairs and refers to ‘the war of the cumquats’ but the panel don’t lean into the material offered. There are numerous occasions where the strange abilities could have been used or combined to a ridiculous and humorous effect but the panel favour non-sequitur references to Snapple. There’s a feeling of trying to be funny despite the set-up, rather than embracing it. However, each show is a completely different experience and the next may be utter magic.

Runs until 27 July 2023

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The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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