If you've glanced quickly at the title, you may be wondering if this is some kind of French farce. It’s actually a Frenglish pun (place the emphasis on Beau), and stylistically it came across as not too far away from farce. As it's an improvised comedy, however, that might vary each night – or maybe not, since which components of the show are genuinely improvised and which are not isn’t all that easy to detect.
The Beau Zeaux is presented like a well-produced piece of theatre; there's none of your grungy, attic-room-style improv here. Music fades in and out along with the lighting during scene changes, and blackouts assist the actors in indicating scene ends. This means, of course, that someone is deciding when scenes should draw to a close. That someone appears to be Deborah Frances-White, seemingly 'directing' the action from the lighting box.
It is she whom we first meet as she opens the show, asking us to suggest some obscure objects for her actors to use. This is the only instance of audience participation, and had little bearing on the rest of the show: most of the scenes had nothing to do with these objects and they were of little relevance, it seemed, to the majority of the action.
Once Frances-White has established the setting (a room containing these items), she takes up her place in the lighting box where she remains throughout, a disembodied voice regularly interjecting into the action to ask the characters about their past, or what they are thinking or feeling at a given point. The 'voice' also directs the characters, telling them what to do, or what not to do. Whether this is representative of characters' inner voice or stream of consciousness is unclear – and really doesn't matter in an abstract comedy situation – but it is an interesting premise, and a concept I enjoyed. It's no doubt also of great help to the actors, who have a constant supply of ideas and prompts from a source other than themselves, but the voice also makes things entertainingly awkward at points (albeit not in a way which would leave them at a loss).
My favourite scenes involved Marcus Brigstocke – fully deserving of his billing as star of the show, since his playful improvisational abilities and comedic character acting skills set him apart – and the highly watchable Rachel Parris, who also displayed quick-thinking comedic ability and entertaining character portrayal. But I found some other characters a little dull and unimaginative, delivering few laughs, and these felt like lost opportunities in the dialogue and storyline.
This performance of The Beau Zeaux was, for me, entertaining with a few good moments; but I was never quite sure if some of the elements of the scenarios are pre-prepared, or if literally everything was being devised before our eyes. Ultimately it’s good fun, but not as much as the high-calibre cast and strong production values might lead you to expect it would be.