Tag Archives: The Free Association

666 Hell Lane

666 Hell Lane


VAULT Festival

666 HELL LANE at the VAULT Festival


666 Hell Lane

“an intriguing mix of gifted improvisers and some still learning their craft”


The Free Association Improv Company is well named. Its latest offering, 666 Hell Lane, is an illuminating example of the company’s particular style of work. Staged in the appropriately named Crypt space at the VAULTS, Free Association present sixty minutes of “comedy horror”. The performance style is a low key kind of humour, filled with lots of references to contemporary movies, movie stars, and classic horror genres. But if you’re expecting to be scared out of your seats, or left aching with laughter, 666 Hell Lane will leave you, ultimately, a tad underwhelmed.

There’s still plenty to appreciate in Free Association’s work, however. The company is committed. There are several talented improvisers in the team. So what’s 666, Hell Lane about? On this particular evening, it’s about two start up creators who have lost their way in a forbidding forest in the middle of the night. It’s only a matter of time before they see a light among the trees, and find a creepy hotel presided over by a creepy host. Sound familiar? Yes, said host looks faintly reminiscent of Riff Raff from the Rocky Horror Show. Sadly, there is no Frank ’n Furter to accompany him, but there are a lot of jokes about Rupert Grint. Either the Harry Potter star is a friend of the company, or else he is desperate for some publicity. And some work. But I digress. Seriously, 666 Hell Lane is all about digressions.

So let’s just back up a moment. Why have the heroes of this particular evening’s horror story, Bash and Crash, lost their way? Well, that’s how each Free Association show begins. The audience is asked to provide a question as a jumping off point for the evening’s comedy/horror story. The company take the question, “free associate” from scene to scene, until, eventually, many shaggy dog stories later, some sort of a conclusion is reached. On this particular evening, the audience asked “Why am I here?” It’s a nightmare question, really, and it says much for the performers that they took that on board, in the ironic spirit intended, and ran all over the set with it. A tortuous tale of disappearing diners emerged, complete with bumbling policemen, neighbourhood comedians desperate to deliver punchlines if not narrative coherence, zombies, and “genre hopping.” Every so often the audience would find themselves in yet another narrative space, and the diner would make a shift back to the hotel, or a video rental store, for example. (Do we still have those?) The contemporary culture jokes would then get a work out. Yep, these guys are pretty slick with all their self-referential irony. Hence all the Rupert Grint jokes, one presumes. And for some reason, Cate Blanchett’s Tàr came in for a lot of heavy hitting.

666, Hell Lane is not the worst way to spend 60 minutes, even if trains rumble loudly overhead every so often, and drown out the dialogue. You might miss a few essential plot points in that particular scene, but rest assured that if the cast gets into narrative trouble, there is always another performer waiting in the background to tap a shoulder, and get stuck into taking the story in yet another seemingly random direction. Performers Alex Holland, Graham Dickson, Alison Thea-Skot, Mariam Haque, Kiran Benawra, Luke Healy, Kat Bond and Laura Riseborough are an intriguing mix of gifted improvisers and some still learning their craft. At its best, free association is this company’s super power. But they could still use a more energetic presentation if they wish to use this American performance style and make it their own.


Reviewed on 7th February 2023

by Dominica Plummer


Vault Festival 2023


More VAULT Festival reviews:


Caceroleo | ★★★★ | January 2023
Cybil Service | ★★★★ | January 2023
Butchered | ★★★★ | January 2023
Intruder | ★★★★ | January 2023
Thirsty | ★★★★★ | February 2023
Kings of the Clubs | ★★★ | February 2023
Gay Witch Sex Cult | ★★★★★ | February 2023
Love In | ★★★★ | February 2023


Click here to read all our latest reviews


Important Art


VAULT Festival 2020

Important Art

Important Art

Crypt – The Vaults

Reviewed – 16th February 2020



“has potential both in concept and its players”


Important Art is the final show in an extensive line-up at the VAULT Festival 2020 from the improvised comedy syndicate Free Association. Packed with a mock showcase of the very best of high culture, Important Art satirises the inaccessible world of art and its clichés.

The show is split into three parts which have varying degrees of success. The first section is some so-called French-prov, that is, improvised ‘sneak peeks’ from a new French film which is performed by Amanda Stauffer and Clemence Billoud almost entirely in French. Graham Dickson (also the turtleneck-clad host for the evening) and Sophie Broido then take to the stage to perform a supposed snippet of a lost play from the famed American playwright Tennessee Williams. The show closes with Alex Holland and Chris Gau attempting to do some serious improv skits.

Dickson is a great host and both the production’s strongest comedian and actor. In his scenes with Broido, who also does well throughout, Dickson jumps between two very different roles with ease, before returning confidently to his hosting role.

Stauffer and Billoud are clearly both very talented but their French comedy will perhaps be lost on certain audiences. With little to no French, one would struggle to keep up with what’s happening on stage, and several rather blank stares from audience members unfortunately confirm this.

Their scenes would have been far more accessible if they had thrown in the odd French phrase or word but spoken in heavily accented English for most of their performance. It is unclear what point they are trying to make with this bit as though conversations about caca suggest that this is unlike a typical pretentious French art film, a pretty high level of understanding is still required to fully enjoy this part of the production.

Dickson and Broido lead the show’s best section, the theme of which is vaguely prompted by two nouns given by the audience. Even those unfamiliar with Williams’ work can understand, appreciate and laugh at the ridiculous tropes of fiction about small town American life. Broido and Dickson also have great chemistry and bounce off each other well.

The final section by Holland and Gau is amusing but their slapstick comedy won’t be for everyone. The duo establish that they are keen to do improv that covers serious topics, but their scenes always descend into physical fighting complete with smashing plates and ripping clothes. The premise is fun but gets old quickly, though the duo does manage to hit a sweet spot in terms of performance length.

The stage is void of any props other than two chairs which are joined by a table for Holland and Gau’s performance, and the music does well to create a feeling of faux sophistication.

Important Art has potential both in concept and its players, but it needs to reassess how it can appeal to and draw in those who may have initially been alienated by the show’s snooty title and borderline elite content.


Reviewed by Flora Doble


VAULT Festival 2020



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