2Northdown, King’s Cross, London, 05/05/2019.
I like my James Bond like I like my coffee, made in the early 1980s in a tongue in cheek and wry manner. Which means I spend most of my time vomiting, but also that I wasn’t sure how I’d find Shaken Not Stirred: The Improvised James Bond show as if it was based around the Daniel Craig era I might not have got on with it. But the fact that one of the main members was Alexander Fox gave me a lot of hope, his show Ringo is a gorgeous bit of comedy and one of the best things on NextUp, the UK based stand sp streaming service, and I’m very fond of improv in general.
Joining Fox on stage was Dom O’Keefe and new cast members Sally Hodgkiss and Scott Oswald, and it came complete with live music from Joe Zacaroli. Before it began Dom nipped round asking a few audience members for potential titles and then once on stage they asked someone for a location for the adventure (for some reason I blurted out Cardiff which they thankfully found amusing), and something Bond might be allergic to (another audience member piped up “watches and the concept of time”), while someone else was given a teddy bear and told to throw it on stage when he wanted two characters to fall in love. There was a quick audience vote as to what Bond would be used, which Roger Moore pleasingly won with ease, and title revealed – The Spy Who Shaved Me.
After a brief beginning where 006 was murdered by two barbers via a poisoned fish, Fox took on the role of James Bond, playing it dry but straight which made it all the more effective. It would have been easy to spend the whole thing ripping the piss out of Roger Moore but his Bond is unfairly criticised, even if by the end of his run he was a tad old (as was briefly mentioned tonight) but Fox avoided doing such a thing and rather than a straight up impersonation it was more of a homage to the role which worked enormously effectively. Like Moore his Bond didn’t play by the rules, which he showed by refusing to sit on chairs properly and kicking in windows rather than using doors somewhat hilariously, it was a running gag which just got better and better as it went on.
The plot saw O’Keefe play a former schoolmate who was (very, very) briefly mocked by Bond while at Eton, and now as an adult he was part of a Cardiff gang with links to SPECTRE, and also a barber who hadn’t had a paying customer since 1968 as he’d murdered them all. The teddy bear was thrown on stage very early on leading to a genuinely cute romance between Bond and M (here a male as he was during Moore’s era), this element turned out to be a highlight of the night and Oswald and Fox generated a lot of laughs from their romance. As well as a little bit of sending up the films (the violence was amusingly rubbish, for instance) there were some strong jokes relating to the time period, including Bond giving Moneypenny 11 pence to go down the Trocadero (a once fantastic arcade which is now sadly closed, for those who didn’t visit London back in the day). Plus instead of weapons Q gave him tiny models of Star Wars figures as he was a massive fan of the recent “new” release, which led to a good few jokes linked to the film. Throughout it was impressive how the cast came up with strong lines and unusual bits of physical comedy, and there wasn’t anything which didn’t quite work or made me groan as can sometimes be the case with improv.
As mentioned earlier, Fox was superb in the lead role, but Dom O’Keefe was equally as good as the villain with a welsh twang and a hint of perversion as he and his wife (played by Hodgkiss) had a kink for making love over corpses, and Hodgkiss also made for an amusingly daft young Q who came complete with an imaginary skateboard and a shocking revelation as to who her real father was. Scott Oswald had less stage time than the others as he took on a variety of supporting roles including M, N and a taxi driver, and my only real complaint was that he was underused as he shone in every scene that he took part in. It’s inevitable when it comes to this kind of long form improv that not everyone will have as much stage time as others though, and I’m sure it varies from show to show.
If I was to be picky it could be pointed out that the plot was a little simplistic, it went from A to B without much deviation and the villain was easily defeated, and though it’s a minor gripe the title never quite made sense as no spy’s actually did any shaving either. But otherwise this was a very funny hour of comedy, improv can easily go badly in the wrong hands but they pulled it off with aplomb, and while this was a 4 star performance I’m sure they’re capable of a 5 star one. The show is returning to the Edinburgh Fringe this summer before embarking on a tour in the Autumn and whether you like Bond or not, as long as you have a fondness for laughing you’ll greatly enjoy this talented group of improvisers.