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LIVELY SKILLS TESTED IN JEOPARDY

Print Version
A CHRISTMAS CRACKER (WIT)
Presented by Wellington Improvisation Troupe (WIT)

at Gryphon, Wellington
From 10 Dec 2013 to 13 Dec 2013

Reviewed by John Smythe, 11 Dec 2013


The Wellington Improvisation Troupe (WIT) is celebrating its 10th birthday and the festive season with a festival of formats: seven over four days (full details on the production page).

The opening night (Tuesday) kicks off with Battle of WITs, the first format they played with all those years ago. This night three teams – The Big red Box, Jay Doves and Nibbles & Bones – compete in a Blind Round (categories drawn from a hat), a Team Choice, a Team Challenge and an MC Challenge. The MC is Kate Wilson.

When three players ‘Speak in One Voice' in an interview about Stamp Collecting (from an audience ask-for), the strategy of repeating the question in unison gets them going but they invariably fizzle out into gobbledegook. Yet a brilliant tag line emerges from their having said, nonsensically, that stamp collecting was “like boning”. Asked which part was like that, they managed: “The sticky part.” B-boom.

We get an ‘Epic Poem' about The Day Annette Became a Police Person and the Blind Round winner is an enacted tale in ‘Song' about a shipwreck that kept two people apart, until it didn't. 

The same team – Nibbles & Bones, comprising the extremely experienced Christine Brooks and fresh newcomer Josh O'Connor – chooses a ‘Ballet' scene which we decree will be about a giraffe and a pineapple. O'Connor's solo dance, narrated by Brooks and with Wiremu (Woody) Tuhiwai stepping in as the pineapple, is the highlight of the night. 

Again they beat the other offerings of The Big Red Box's ‘Slo Mo' Santa Parade in Aro Valley and Jay Doves ‘Dispensing Advice' on Shoes – and The Big Red Box is eliminated.

But, proving even the most seasoned practitioner can slip from the high-wire of improv, Brooks is all over the place when Nibbles & Bones are challenged to ‘play each other' on a night they go to visit the in-laws. Unaccountably the audience applause-o-meter vote still scores them higher than the cool little drama played out by Jay Doves in the ‘hot centre of the Earth'.

When the MC Challenges Jay Doves to use The Big Red Box as inanimate objects in an asked-for scene about a new Countdown opening tomorrow, the result is humdrum. Nibbles & Bones get lucky, however, when, challenged to ‘incorporate someone from the audience', they pick a young man called Duncan, who reveals he's always wanted to see a story about people making a herb garden. Despite their woeful showing in the Herb-naming competition he initiates, they win the round and the night.

The risk and jeopardy inherent in the Battle of WITs format ensures there is entertainment to be generated from failure as well as success.

Opening night's second show is Thrills & Swoon which had its first outing last May (see my review here). Christine Brooks reprises her highly imaginative romance writer, Chandice Le Roux and accepts our requests for her to incorporate ‘hot breath', ‘petals of desire', heaving bosoms' and ‘firmly muscled manly thighs'.

Again our calling out first pet names and the first street we lived in produces some stirring character names: Champ Seymour, Monty Homebush, Murphy Monroe, Tiffany Fulsome … And again Chandice's imagination manifests in the forms of Jennifer O'Sullivan, Barry Miskimmin, Nicola Pauling, Amy Williamson, Adam Williamson and Steven Youngblood.

Youngblood's Monty Homebush becomes a timid accountant under the thumb of his overbearing Father (Miskimmin). Nevertheless when his eyes meet those of Pauling's cleaner, Tiffany Fulsome … A sweet scenario plays out over a number of scenes, interspersed by others (Chandice has multiple pots on the boil at once).

The ‘Cover pose' we pick from a lineup, adding that the story must involve ‘a fake marriage for immigration purposes', finds O'Sullivan bringing a brilliantly brutal accent to would-be immigrant from South Africa, Ursula, who is discovering her marriage-of-convenience to Gerard (Adam Williamson) has become complicated by love …

Then there is the love triangle involving Daniel (Youngblood), Dakota (Pauling) and her heaving-bosomed sister Louise (Amy Williamson) – and this is the one, I think, where extra-terrestrial ancestry, dual pregnancy and a curse come into play …

Amy Williamson also pitches for the raw accent award with Kangaroo Glaze, a Sheila who doesn't like being left. And another interlude involves all the players reading random sentences from the Mills & Boons that litter Chandice's desk, to stitch together a brand new story.

It all ends with a kiss, of course … Call me an old romantic but Thrills & Swoon is a winning a format for me.

Over the next few nights at the Gryphon, the Wellington Improvisation Troupe (WIT) will be presenting Gorilla (Wed, 7pm), Duets (Wed, 8.30pm), Divas ReUnited (Thurs, 7pm), Love Possibly (Thurs, 8.30pm) and Micetro Showdown (Fri, 7pm). They are a lively group of skill improvisers: see for yourself.
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