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Coded Comedy - Bright Side Productions (Fringe World 2024)

Reviewed by Kate O'Sullivan


Regardless of your opinion on artificial intelligence, it is here to stay. And none more so than ChatGPT, the chatbot developed by OpenAI. Bright Side Production has taken this little technological ideas generator and applied it to a new improvisation format, "Coded Comedy".

The premise is simple - the audience provides a couple of details (a location, a time, a noun and an adjective), and ChatGPT spits out a plot premise and four characters for the four main improvisers. They are backed up by the emcee of the evening as well as a musician improvising along with the troupe, to tell an hour-long artificially-generated story.

All four performers did well in terms of incorporating details from the prompts - which on the night I saw it was set in a 1984 Target - but it almost feels like the details they are given are too much to allow them to fully explore their own ideas and improvisation. This is more a limitation of the format than a limitation of the performers' acting chops. The moments that they do find the real archetypes within the characters (such as Chuck "The Manager"), and the tropes within the scenes (the meet-cute in Aisle 5), the scenes flow really well, and they get the audience laughing. A lot of the details are also front-loaded - it took 20-plus minutes for us to get into the meat of the improvisation - which gives the performers less time to take us on the ride of the prompted plot. Once the characters had been found and the 'game' of the scene was established (oh god, so many birds in Target), the beats flowed naturally, the jokes became clearer, and the players seemed to have more fun.

Having a musician who understands improvisation was also an asset to this show. The final number (Target Is Where We Work) was a rousing success and demonstrated the musical improvisational skills the performers have. It did feel like this was underused in the show - we wanted more songs to bring the musical improvisation in more, like "I Want" songs from some of the characters or a villain song to drive the tension of the plot. This may come down to needing some more structure in the long-form format of the show, just to give the performers more beats and clarity.

Musical improvisation is a skill that people build over time and only improves the more it is done in front of an audience. With a little stripping back, this format has a lot of promise, and I look forward to seeing where it goes next.

Phillip Whyte, Maree Cole, Tadhg Lawrence and Matt Arnold. Image credit: Mike Rwa

Reviewer Note: Kate has previously performed with Maree Cole. Tickets for this review were provided by the theatre company.


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