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THEATRESPORTS FREESTYLE 2013
Presented by The Improvisors

at Circa Two, Wellington
From 25 Aug 2013 to 13 Oct 2013
[Sundays only]

Reviewed by John Smythe, 26 Aug 2013


It used to be called Improv Cage Match and the same format by any other name is just as challenging.  Theatresports Freestyle pits two teams against each other, each asked to play out their ever-evolving improv in three parts that total 30 minutes.

MC for the season-of-Sundays' opening show is Pete Doile and he warms us up in an amiable manner. There are no team names so I'll see if I can suggest some later ...

Team 1 is Greg Ellis and Richard Falkner. They have predetermined they'll tale “a journey through time” so ask for a period from history and get “Jurassic”. This opens up boundless possibilities to meet their request for an item of contemporary technology that would not have been found in that era. What they get is “an i-phone”.

Instantly they adopt the roles of Clive and Terry (or should I say Ptery?), and soon find a strange oblong object that plays a tune, producing the classic line, “Not another Nokia!” Leap to 65 million years later (now) and an archaeological dig unearths a mystery … This takes 8 of their 30 minutes.

Team 2 – Kenny King, Ian Harcourt and Simon Leary – announce they will present three complete movies over the evening, selected from a dog-eared Movie Guide book according to which ever page number we, the audience, choose.

The trouble is this gives Harcourt a number of titles to choose from and it takes him a while to do so which rather dilutes both the energy and the jeopardy. I'd rather see the choice given to an audience member who also reads out the brief synopsis, or at least checks that Harcourt has read it verbatim.

Nevertheless a family film called Zebra In The Kitchen (1965) is recreated in their first slot, over 7 minutes. I don't recall the random ‘ask for' they put into the mix for that and the improv is mostly remarkable for failing to manifest a zebra. 

Team 1's story is progressive and their next ‘ask for' involves an embarrassing email and leads to a Mega Upload Mogul with a German accent having his emails intercepted by a GCSB operative in Kelburn, all the metadata disappearing and satirical banter about not needing a warrant. Excellent topicality!

Faulkner and Ellis work together impressively, although this segment is much more verbal than their first and both tend to shout with the excitement of their creation.  They use 11 minutes here, leaving 8 for their final round.

The page number given to Team 2 results in a 1994 film called Nevada being recreated and when they ask for an unlikely location they get “the West Coast of the South Island”. Cow poking gags ensue and some of the development is compromised by players not picking up offers – e.g. the relocation to Denniston – and indeed one player blocks quite badly.  They are left with 12 minutes for their final round.

After interval an audience member decrees team 2 will go first. The third film synopsis they get to recreate is The Primrose Path (1940) involving a girl form the wrong side of the tracks falling for a toff. Further ‘ask fors' results in a skateboard, an opening line (“Did you know what happened?”) and a last line (“Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn.”).

This time the story – of Janelle and Quentin, and his butler – plays out with relative fluidity. But for my money the discrete stories in each round, the time they take to choose one of their liking and the lack of accumulation throughout the evening are negatives.  

Having accumulated a complex set of components in their progressive multi-era, multi-character and multi–location plot, Team 1 chooses not to ask for more input and just gets on with it, expertly pulling it all together with splendid physicality as well as their signature verbosity …

But somehow they get derailed at the end, on being told they have time left on the clock, then – having gone off at a tangent and not got back when the whistle blows – they stop, only to be told they had 30 seconds left. Confusing.

Anyway, because they have not put a good end on it, the audience vote goes to Team 2 despite Team 1 having taken on a far greater challenge and delivered on it with alacrity, albeit with little vocal modulation.

So I'd call Team 1 ‘My Shout' and Team 2 ‘Better Blockers'. Obviously the scenarios described will never be repeated; I have indicated what's happened this opening night by way of giving a sense of how this game can work (or not).

I must add that it is good to see players from opposing teams leaping in to help each other manifest what's being created. In the end co-operating to produce the best result is what Theatresports is all about.

Given Theatresports Freestyle is not the most dynamic improv format, it's up to the players – the teams – to increase the jeopardy and thus our excitement. If they do, I'd like to think audiences would reward those who take the game to a higher level. It's on for the next eight Sundays – so anything could happen, and will.
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