Hannah Playhouse, Cnr Courtenay Place & Cambridge Terrace, Wellington

20/10/2018 - 20/10/2018

NZ Improv Festival 2018

Production Details

A Truly Momentous Occasion: the NZIF Gala is a glorious celebration and showcase to kick off our 10th birthday season in style.

We welcome you to join us for this glamourpuss gala evening, Saturday 20 October, as we proudly highlight upcoming festival performers and shows, then perform for your entertainment an epic international improv jam featuring some of the very best improvisors in the world.

A Truly Momentous Occasion: the NZIF Gala is MC’d by our own Festival Director, Jennifer O’Sullivan, and just like the Comedy Gala there’s something for everyone! If you’ve watched improv on TV, in a theatre or loved it since high school, this is sure to be an unmissable smorgasbord of spontaneous comedy, drama, music and delights.

Hannah Playhouse12 Cambridge TerraceWellington, Wellington (map)
Saturday, October 20, 2018
TIX: $24-30 – BOOK NOW!


Theatre , Improv ,

2 hrs

A stimulating taster

Review by George Fenn 22nd Oct 2018

When I realised that there was Improv at the Hannah Playhouse I wore my shiny but slightly too small shoes. If you haven’t spent time googling whether improvisational theatre has ever been performed at the Hannah Playhouse in the forty six years of being a stage, it hasn’t. This milestone, marked with The New Zealand Improv Festival Gala – A Truly Momentous Occasion – reflects the growths in Wellington Improv in the last five years. [Note: the remainder of the Festival takes place at BATS Theatre.]

For those out of the know, October is a strange time of year where improvisors from around the world descend on Wellington to make stuff up on the spot. For improvisors this creates an exchange of skills, theory and play styles through workshops, wines at the bar and playing together. For non-improvisors it means that there are multiple world-class improv shows to witness at local prices.

Guiding the gala with wholesome pride is Festival Director Jennifer O’Sullivan. She showcases her infallible hosting prowess as well as snippets of upcoming festival shows. My review will address how the segments work in short and extrapolate how the full hour might work.

Firstly we see a short mission of Space Patrol Five, heralding the return of the hugely successful sci fi parody. Matt Powell (Wellington) and Brendon Bennetts (Christchurch) empower the audience to create the sound effects for their mission. Having heard of this show before, it is a hint to the ways the group incorporate audience into the storytelling as they are known to use starship models constructed by the audience before the show.

Livin’ La Vida Impro is a Bilingual performance which, even in non-improvised performance is rare. Two separate scenes of two performers (Matias Avaca, Argentina + Michelle Marlowe, Wellington, and Lliam Amor, Melbourne + Abbey Howells, Dunedin) are played of side by side. The couples mirror each other’s physical action, maintaining it while playing out two different scenes. Interestingly the play seems to be as much about physicality as it is about language. Not speaking Spanish I still enjoy the linguistic and physical dissonance between the tragic romance of chicken feeders and the lifetime father-daughter personal training trails.

We see a mash up of a two formats: The Protest (Stephen Davidson, London / Canada) and Strangers (Jonathan Briden, Christchurch). The Protest is improv which explores silly social issues as a way of reflecting larger issues. The parameter of Strangers fits well with this. The characters are strangers introduced to the audience first to get some juicy dramatic irony as characters introduce themselves to each other. Meeting for the first time in gaol after clashing in the Agapanthus debate, the scene manages to extrapolate on biosecurity, immigration and allegories of tolerance. Jonathan Pitts, Chicago, lives up to legendary Second City pedigree which includes Tina Fey, Steve Carell, Jordan Peele. New to both formats, they use fundamental technique to a high standard to create emotionally complex, physically dynamic characters platforming off of the idea that it’s their first night in a gaol cell.

Tales From the Tip provokes delightful junk puppetry driven by emotional responses. Puppet improv takes a different speed to the rest of the night, driven by Katherine Weaver’s (Melbourne) steady emotional escalations and ability to stay comfortable as Amy Moule (Melbourne) takes the care required to animate an otherworldly coffee cup, stilted on scarf legs. Tales from the Tip seems like it will have a more contemplative pace than the rest of the festival.

Heartfelt High, a classic high school soap opera is perfectly pitched, keeping me laughing the whole time. The budding romance withers and flowers under the long suffering guidance counsellor. While over the top, the presentation of the characters is precise showing the huge capacity for listening the performers possess (Luke Rimmelzwaan, Brisbane + Camilla Percy, Brisbane + Maddie Parker, Sydney). This allows characters to lie in a fashion that other players can recognise and exploit for laughs and story. The teamwork creates a slick pace, that, when combined with the commitment to genre, hits what I am coining as the uncanny improvalley, where something improvised is so good that people could think it was scripted. 

Love Isthmus is a post apocalyptic reality TV show. It’s Hunger Games meets Love Island. Director Christie Brooks (Wellington) teases her show with an interview with last year’s winners. The fun for the audience is seeing characters presenting the morally compromised world as a slice of life. The stakes are ramped by the endowment of the audience as members of an exclusive safezone.  

Tara Swadi, Wellington, and Cale Bain, Sydney, do well to play on all these layers, adding a false Reality TV show relationship, revelling in each other’s pauses to frame the world as a nightmare. It is complex, immersive and fun. 

A duet by Wiremu Tuhiwai (Wellington) and Amanda Buckley (Melbourne) uses the musical improv format of The Greatest Show to recap the scenes of the night, much like what I am doing in this review, but with song. I am left with that delightfully concussed feeling you get from watching talented musical theatre performers doing what they love. Watch the karaoke stages around Wellington this week for some next-level barflying.

After the interval all the performers return to the stage to perform scenes based on monologues and enjoy the quick scenes with huge offers: something great to behold with players who have not played with each other before.  

Heaps on this week. Get down to BATS to check some stuff out.


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