Criminally Untrue: An Improvised True Crime Documentary ★★★★

‘Criminally Untrue’ is an Improvised comedy take on the true crime documentary genre. The Recs’ verdict is in…

We go live to the courtroom where the case of The Crown vs the improvised theatrical entertainment “Criminally Untrue” is underway.

Prosecution: “Call the next witness
A man walks into the witness box.
Prosecution: “For the record please state your name
SCDI am SCD and I am the editor of The Recs
Prosecution: “And please tell the members of the jury what this “The Recs” is
SCD (somewhat smugly): “We are an up and coming arts review website with a free online monthly magazine. We give recommendations on theatre, film, music, TV shows…
Prosecution (interrupting the blatant self-promotion): “And I believe you are here as a hostile witness…
SCD: “In what sense?
Prosecution: “In the sense that it’s used in many legal dramas rather than the strict criteria defined in the English system”
SCD: “In that case, yes I am
Prosecution, taking a step towards the witness: “What is your opinion of improvised comedy comedy?
SCD: “I hate it. With a passion. Awful stuff. It just makes me…so tense” He nervously wrings a napkin which he seems to have brought to the witness box for that express dramatic purpose.
Prosecution: “And when did your loathing of improvised comedy begin?
SCD: “Probably in the ’90s. Whose Line Is It Anyway was on Channel 4. I mean that was okay. A bit smug. But it was on the screen…so they couldn’t get to you. But then you could go to Fringe Festivals or a comedy club without having some Improv being forced on you. I mean how many nights out need to be blighted by people on stage desperately trying wring some humour out of…I don’t know…Wolf from Gladiators, bleeding a radiator and a cucumber in the style of French nouvelle vague cinema.”
Prosecution: “And what did you do about your loathing of Comedy Improv?
SCD: “I vowed never to attend any comedy performance that did not have a script.
Prosecution: “Understandable. Now, Mr SCD, can you tell the jury of your whereabouts on 16th April 2022?
SCD: “I was at the Vault Unlocked Festival at Bridge House Theatre.” He shifts uncomfortably. “Watching…a couple of shows.
Prosecution: “And was one of these shows…”Criminally Untrue: An Improvised True Crime Documentary“.
SCD, looking shifty: “Yes“.
Prosecution: “So, you would have the members of the jury believe that you – a committed hater of Comedy Improv – would attend a show that is palpably devised on the spot. Namely, Improv!
SCD tries to reply but no words will form.
Prosecution: “Why? Why would you willingly put yourself through this ordeal? WHY?”
SCD hangs his head in shame.
The prosecution barrister reaches down to his table and picks up a heavy volume of papers, displaying the tome to the jury.
Prosecution: “You know what these are, Mr SCD?”
SCD shakes his head defensively.
Prosecution: “These are records taken from your TV series links and recorded shows from your Virgin TiVo device.
A convenient, if inexplicable, shocked reaction is heard from the public gallery.
Prosecution: “And what do you think we might find among these records?
SCD, evasively: “Um…maybe a couple of A Place in The Sun episodes…maybe some Knots Landings from CBS Drama…
Prosecution, interrupting: “The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story, The Pembrokeshire Murders, Landscapers, Making a Murderer, Des, Bad Vegan: Fame, Fraud, Fugitives. The Thing About Pam, The Tinder Swindler, The Thief, His Wife and the Canoe…
SCD, anguished: “Stop!
Prosecution: “Is it not true that you are obsessed with true crime shows?
SCD nods meekly.
Prosecution: “And is it not true that this Improv troupe used your weakness for true crime documentaries and dramas to lure you to see their show?
SCD: “Yes. They did. The fiends! When I saw that Criminally Untrue: An Improvised True Crime Documentary would feature inexpert interviews, unstructured reconstructions and fabricated evidence based on audience suggestions to showcase a crime that never happened… I was hooked. Forgive me Netflix Originals.
Defence, looking towards the dock: “And can you identify those who participated in this production?
SCD looks towards the dock where the four improvisors of Pillow Talk Theatre company had handily arranged themselves in a series of comedy poses against a photoshopped background.

SCD: ” Yes. From left to right, I believe that is Lorna Rose Treen, Orla Newmark and Will Hughes and lying down is Jonathan Oldfield.

Defence: “And how did you find their show?
SCD: “I…don’t remember“.
Defence: “From Saturday? Nothing?
SCD: “It was a long Bank Holiday“.
Defence: “Do you really expect the members of the jury that you remember nothing? At all? What was the ‘true crime’ they constructed?”
SCD: “Well from audience suggestions shouted out at the start, the scene of the crime was Gatwick Airport and the crime was to be theft or robbery. Of all wraps in the food hall of the domestic flights area. Oh and an airplane was stolen too…
Defence: “And did you enjoy this true crime improvisation?

SCD remained stubbornly silent.

The defence barrister picks up three folded cards from the table.

Defence: “May I submit Exhibit Two? Mr SCD’s handwritten notes from the performance“.

A gasp echoes around the courtroom. The barrister hands the cards over to SCD and with a nod, invites him to read the notes aloud.

SCD, reluctantly: “Very warm, charming, enthusiastic presence… A clever, contemporary hook to hang improv on. Great flights of fancy – whether you can trademark a wrap, the furtive world of betting on planes falling out of the sky, Scarlett Johansson being hit in the face by a wrap when sunbathing – that never stray too far from the true crime recap…

His voice tails off.

Defence: “More please. Just read what you’ve written“.
SCD, blurting out “Jonathan is the perfect confident ringmaster, great interaction with the audience to put them at ease and make them want to be part of the fun. Lorna has an irresistible energy and an endless range of instantly recognisable quirky characters. Will adds a dry and often surreal humour into the mix and Orla delivers strong acting chops to her varied roles. A blizzard of brilliantly improvised dramatis personae crafted on the spot. So many accents – some of them even accurate…”

Defence, smiling: “And please could you skip to the final bit on your card. The bit you’ve underlined. Twice

SCD, taking a deep breath: “Criminally Untrue is the perfect improvised comedy for Improv-phobes. Spinning the cliches of true crime documentaries to create a new hilarious narrative each time, Criminally Untrue is a show you could happily see again.

Chaos breaks out in the court – the cast of Pillow Talk Theatre cheering, the Judge banging his gavel as if he were in an American legal system…

Defence: “I rest my case“.
Judge: “Case dismissed. Pillow Talk Theatre you are free to go“.

SCD walks out of the witness box with an inscrutable expression on his face. What is he thinking? Could he be regretting his decision to write his review of Criminally Untrue in such an over-extended, unconventional way? Possibly. Or could he be wondering if he’d set the series link for The Staircase?

In the now empty courtroom, the lone defence barrister picks up his bags and papers and makes his way towards the exit, a smug smile spreading across his face. On his table, he has left a solitary lychee behind – a visual coda as an in-joke that only those who were in the Bridge House Theatre audience would understand.

Told you improv comedy was annoying!

The Recs gives Criminally Untrue a pleasantly surprising  ★★ (4 stars)

The Recs saw Criminally Untrue at Bridge House Theatre as part of their Vault Unlocked Festival 2022

Criminally Untrue - Tour Dates


The Laurels in Whitley Bay  - 16th and 17th June - Book Here


Visit Pillow Talk Theatre website for future shows, improv workshops and more info.

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