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CREATIVE INGENUITY, RESPONSIVENESS AND YES WIT

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A CHRISTMAS CRACKER
Wellington Improvisation Troupe  (WIT) 
Producer: Andrea Wiechern
Music: Tane Upjohn-Beatson
Lights: Darryn Woods

at Gryphon, Wellington
From 4 Dec 2012 to 15 Dec 2012

Reviewed by John Smythe, 5 Dec 2012


 Wellington Improvisation Troupe  (WIT) is bulging with presence this festive season, mounting multiple performances of five improv formats plus a charity event within a fortnight, under the collective title A Christmas Cracker. I caught the two opening shows …   

As we find our seats in the Gryphon, musician Tane Upjohn-Beatson is playing with himself: sampling his guitar plucking and strumming to accompany his live playing. Throughout the evening he uses his superb guitar and keyboard skills to enrich the instantly emerging scenarios, mostly enhancing the unfolding action and sometimes adding an ‘offer' or two of his own to stimulate the actors.

Darryn Woods on lights is also highly responsive, most impressively with a deep red wash at appropriate moments.

Micetro (7pm)

Drawing from a pool of ten improvisers, the purpose of Micetro is to challenge different combinations – selected by director Geoff Simmons – with offers pre-gathered from audience members. Through a series of elimination rounds, one Micetro (maestro) will arise.

This night WIT stalwarts Christine Brooks, Barry Miskimmin, Adam Williamson, Lyndon Hood and Ali Little are joined by newcomers Mike Kmiec, Annika Naschitzki, Mike Webster, David Wansbrough, and Rose Andaloro. It is testament to WIT's training process that it is not immediately obvious who is new to the game.

On opening night, four rounds of three or four games each, delivered:
a Word-by-Word story set in the Cambodian jungle involving a vault of gold;
an Epic Poem with the chorus line ‘The day Laura Kate paraglided around the world';
an extremely brief Yes Let's volleyball game;
Subtitles for a foreign movie entitled The Golden Thorn;
a chat show Introducing a book called The idiots Guide to Cat Keeping;
a New Choice game about siblings that produced a death threat involving miniature donkeys;
a couple on a couch whose relationship is saved by a miniature donkey;
Death in a Minute on a pig farm;
a Location inside the human body wherein the lungs of a reformed smoker meet each other for the first time;
Guess the Word (Asteroid) set in a coffee shop;
Inspired by Music involving a doomed Hindenburg pilot;
the Small Voice of a French or maybe Spanish crab on Oriental Bay;
an Opera called I Need a Sign.

After each game the audience gets to vote by acclamation for a score between 1 (low) and 5 (high). We were so generous we had to be asked to be more ruthless so that eliminations could occur.

Amid the generally high standard of accepting offers (except for once when an audience offer was unaccountably rejected) and building on them, I noticed two strange tendencies: starting sit-com style scenarios in American accents (apart from the two contestant who do come from North America); turning present action scenarios into past-tense narration. For my money present action is much more dynamic.

The two left standing last night were newcomer Mike Kmiec and stalwart Adam Williamson. Challenged to show the most emotionally true love while working high up on a building site won Williamson the accolade of Micetro.

Duets (8:30pm)

As the title implies, Duets is a series of two-handers played out under the unobtrusive creative direction of Jennifer O'Sullivan.

For Table and Chairs two audience volunteers were asked to randomly arrange a collection of chairs and a table as the starting point for a series of brief scenes – five in all – played out by Ali Little and Tai Samaeli.

Ingeniously and mostly with remarkable authenticity they took us through:
their late Nanna's house, with him – back from Australia – wanting to sell it all while she wants to keep it all and live there;
watching the Hobbit premiere from up a Courtenay Place lamp post, which results in a proposal;
his lethal encounter with a mermaid and her seductive siren song;
a prison within a prison where chicken pieces are the bait for discovering where the treasure is hidden;
an exercise in downsizing where her ‘too happy for her boss' worker turns the tables by making him so angry he quits.

The imaginative range of situations and characters the created, and the well-structured scenarios they conjured up, were particularly impressive.

Two characters from WIT's 2008 soap opera The Young & The Witless – Garrett St Claire (Barry Miskimmin) and MacKenzie Morgan (Christine Brooks) played out two scenarios: The Oxford Years, where they met in the early 1960s, and The Marriage Years, where distance made the hearts grow fonder.

Appropriate over-acting was enjoyed by all.

Betwixt these two came my favourite game of the night: Southern Man, in which Trev (Geoff Simmons) and Bryan (Lyndon Hood) chew the fat over a beer, picking up and riffing off four face-down notes with audience-provided topical subjects.

Thus we got their opinions on Brendan Horan, the royal pregnancy, the ownership of water and Kim Dotcom. I won't say more because some of these may come up again later in the week. Suffice to say they captured the tone sublimely and offered much homespun wisdom into the bargain.

The Wellington Improvisation Troupe  (WIT) is well up to speed with A Christmas Cracker and judging by the opening night I can recommend it for its creative ingenuity, responsiveness and – yes – wit.
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