st doctors hospital edfringe

St Doctors Hospital review | Anarchic improv has funny bones, but no heartbeat

Improv theatre company The Free Association returns to the Fringe with a chaotic stab at a US medical drama. Here’s our St Doctors Hospital Edinburgh Fringe review.


Improv, as any self-help book, theatre kid or ill-advised team-building exercise will tell you, is all about teamwork. “Yes, and” might have become a kind of meme over the last few years, but the premise behind good improv is as good as ever: agree to your partner’s suggestions, and add something of your own.

It’s a topic London-based improv company and school, The Free Association, will have drilled a thousand times. Unfortunately, the message behind the slogan doesn’t seem to have sunk in. While their latest show, St Doctors Hospital, does a great job of cramming a bunch of very skilled improvisers on stage at the same time, they never feel like much of a team.

At the show we saw, things got off to a slightly chaotic start when a doctor announced their intention to “get more weird” by covering themselves in red paint. When a character’s weird scale starts at 11, it makes escalating things from there a little difficult. This time around, it only added to the feeling that St Doctors Hospital is a short-form show trapped in a long-form body.

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Though the performers had universally great stage presence and whipped out one-liners thick and fast, they visibly struggled to tie each scene together into anything resembling a plot. Instead, wacky new characters appeared to dominate each scene for what felt like most of the show, never allowing anything to grow into a satisfying story.

That would be fine if that looseness was part of the show’s intention. A US-style collection of short scenes based around a single theme would make a welcome change of pace from the Fringe’s standard “improvised popular media property” long-form format.

As it is though, the promise of improvising an episode of a new medical drama proves to be a weight the cast can never comfortably lift. The Free Association really are incredibly funny, so it’s a shame to leave the show feeling so unsatisfied. For fast-paced improvised junk food, St Doctors Hospital will do just fine. For improv fanatics, however, it’s a show in desperate need of restructuring.

St Doctors Hospital is playing at Assembly: George Square Studios until 28 August. You can view our comprehensive guide to the entire Fringe here.

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