PROACTIVE CONVICTION AND GENEROUS INTERACTIVITY
The Wishing Tree
Director/Producer: Christine Brooks
Creator: Rama Nicholas (Impro Melbourne)
Wellington Improvisation Troupe (WIT)
at The Garden Club, 13b Dixon Street, Wellington
From 8 Dec 2009 to 12 Dec 2009
Reviewed by John Smythe (2), 8 Dec 2010
There is a hum in the air at The Garden Bar, from the air conditioning or maybe the fridges in the bar at the back of the auditorium. This is no problem for amplified stand-up comedy or musical shows but for The Wishing Tree – or anything else not using microphones – a seat near the front is recommended at this venue.
Last year, when the Wellington Improvisation Troupe (WIT) planted their tree at Bats (link to review below), the intimacy and ambience was enchanting. This year it's in danger of appearing relatively ho-hum, because of the low hum and the high stage placed in a relatively cavernous space devoid of backing flats. While I know WIT prefers to draw us in rather than blast us with projected performance, more energy is needed here to fully engage us.
The mythical premise remains: “Once a year (on the night of the show) two stars align. They represent a prince and a princess who are in love and are married, but have been separated throughout the year by the Milky Way. Once a year they get their wish to be together. It's an auspicious day for wishes to come true because the gods are happy the lovers are together. The gods often wander through the sacred forests and if they find your wish hanging on the tree – it might come true.”
So each audience member is asked to write a truly heartfelt wish on a tag and hang it on the potted tree at the front of the stage. Then, as Sebastian Morgan Lynch gets us ‘in the mood' with his cello, each of the performers – all 8 on opening night – randomly pluck a wish from a twig. On opening night most went for the low-hanging fruit.
By my count 7 got a run so presumably one was prejudged a dud. One gets read out, someone initiates an action, others join in if and when they feel inspired to contribute … and when another player senses it's time to move on, they claim the space to read the next wish. All this happens on impulse and most scenarios are returned to. Thus – like a soap opera, or perhaps more like channel-hopping, given the differences in style and genre – a number of stories play out in brief episodes.
Just one ended – with a ritual ripping if the tag – after one scene only. A wish that the seal killers would be found led to a bewildered American tourist asking his mate what happened: “When you said let's go clubbing …” Knowing when a ‘gag' has reached its full potential is a major skill in this form of improv.
The wish to retire from work and explore the world progressed in ways that surprised even the participants, not least when a voice from the side declared that this pleasant experience (on a Venetian gondola) would turn out to be the most extraordinary experience the tourist had ever had. Upping the stakes to challenge each other is another way of boosting creative energy.
A happy wedding wish (I didn't catch the details) precipitated a pseudo Shakespearean scenario that often achieved rhyming couplets while playing out the deep-felt emotions caused by an absent husband /father being supplanted by a present lover. A duel at the end saw the flawed father floored. Brilliant.
Ingeniously the wish for NZ to acquire a better cricket team focussed on a bloke with extraordinary natural talents hiding away with Kiwi recalcitrance. The desire for Santa to “tickle my feet with a feather” suffered from being too obviously funny as an idea. Seriously sincere wishes usually generate better comedy.
That said, the desire to win Lotto and a wish to be blonde both produced well-formed cautionary tales that amusingly took the ‘be careful what you wish for' route.
My preference is for scenarios that grow as offer builds on offer, without anyone dictating too much in one burst. More than once on opening night one actor stood sponge-like while another infused him with a paragraph of exposition about his character and the scene yet to come. That does represent a challenge, I guess, but it's not as interesting as witnessing group creativity moment by moment, knowing no one person is in control.
Overall, however, the WITs do improvise impressively with proactive conviction and generous interactivity, exhibiting a collective sensibility that ensures a good result. That my companion and I felt moved to recount the details of some scenarios on the way home, and admire the skills that brought them into fruition, bodes well for this Wishing Tree season.
Kudos, then, to Christine Brooks, Derek Flores, Ralph McCubbin Howell, Nicky Hill, Merrilee McCoy, Mark Scott, Simon Smith and Paul Sullivan, plus Sebastian Morgan Lynch on cello and Darryn Woods on lighting.
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Laurie Atkinson (The Dominion Post);