Fantasy-inspired improv show How To Date A Magical Creature shows potential – but contains too much clutter and structural issues in its current format to really fly.
Chat show hosts are a beloved staple in the British television landscape, with the likes of Graham Norton and Alan Carr coaxing well-known guests to share juicy tidbits of their lives. How To Date a Magical Creature‘s answer is Toby Vanilla – a poised Jonah Fazel who wins over the VAULT Festival audience early with the sort of charisma and perhaps smarminess one expects from an old-school host. Fazel’s quick wit and mannerisms anchor this particular improvised chat show, as larger-than-life characters take the couch. The real strength of his character, however, appears in a spontaneous moment where a guest reveals his darker side. But more on that later…
Improv shows rely on audience participation and How To Date A Magical Creature is no different. Fazel is able to coerce the crowd to join in the show’s musical moments – but less successful at ensuring they are forthcoming with all-important suggestions. Sadly for the company, some of the creatures inspired by audience suggestions on press night aren’t quite as imaginative as one wishes them to be. Sci-fi is not the same as fantasy (although they can overlap), but a Dalek – Vanilla’s first guest on press night – definitely belongs in the world of the former. Another creature suggested was a “big-breasted sausage sucker”, which also became the name of the band headed by Nick Oram. It’s that sort of show.
Dan Starkey has the audience laughing the most, playing the aforementioned Dalek with conviction and revealing that beneath an insatiable compulsion to “exterminate” is a soft heart. Starkey also shines as a particularly northern merman, with killer lines such as “a bastard porpoise comes along and nicks yer crill.” If there ever were an every(mer)man, he perfectly encapsulates him – and Lucy Fennel is a great counterpart as his tail.
With a title such as How To Date A Magical Creature, it’s no surprise that the subject of love and romance are brought up on occasion by its host. However, one can’t help but wonder how the show would fare as an unmitigated dating show instead. The current format feels somewhat rushed and unfocused, as the performers zip through countless characters. With more time to explore and develop each character and narrative (however silly), more laughs are likely to be had.
The show could also benefit from being stripped back; whilst the stage is transformed into a convincing chat show studio, keeping the costumes on stage proved to be somewhat distracting. Actors clamoured for whatever costume they could find in-between, but these items often made no sense. For example, Lucy wore a pig snout for her hamster role. Cutting down the number of characters would also help prevent the format of show from feeling repetitive.
One would have hoped for the company to elevate their eponymous “Magical Creatures” more, but admittedly this task was rendered more difficult by the selection they were given. It would’ve been far more rewarding to see these magical established with more time – then later turned on their heads. Ultimately, How To Date A Magical Creature had the makings of being a truly fun improv show but too much clutter and structural issues for it to fly.