BOOYA: Blow it Out Your Ahem

BATS Theatre, The Propeller Stage, 1 Kent Tce, Wellington

08/10/2015 - 08/10/2015

NZ Improv Festival 2015

Production Details

BOOYA: Blow it Out Your Ahem is a thrilling mash-up of Harold and modern dance.

Pairing physical work inspired by Rachel Rosenthal with the quintessential long-form improvisation form Harold, Lori Dungey presents an NZIF ensemble cast in a work that is stunning, hilarious and quite unexpected.

BATS Theatre, 1 Kent Tce, Wellington 
Thursday 8 October
$18 Full / $14 Concession / $13 Groups 6+ /
Two show pass: $30 Full / $25 Concession
Book online at

Lori Dungey – Intro
‘Harold’ players:
Laura Irish
Jason Geary
April Seymore
Isaac Thomas
+ NZIF Ensemble

Musician – Oli Devlin 
Lighting – Uther Dean  

Theatre , Improv ,

1 hr

Flotsam and jetsam in a tide of movement

Review by John Smythe 09th Oct 2015

It usually takes a few workshop sessions for an improv troupe to train themselves into a new format but in the hothouse pressure-cooker of a festival it happens in a day; less than a day. This team’s coach and presenter, Lori Dungey, calls them brave for stepping out in public to give it a go. And there’s an extra zing for the audience, too, in sensing and accepting the risk with them.

BOOYA: Blow it Out Your Ahem is a mash-up of ‘Harold’ and non-verbal physical expression. ‘Harold’ is the name some Californian wit gave a just-invented relatively long-form improve format way back in 1967 (referencing George Harrison calling his haircut ‘Arthur’ in A Hard Day’s Night).

In BOOYA, four performers – Laura Irish, Jason Geary, April Seymore and Isaac Thomas – bring an object to our attention and tell us what it means to them. We are shown a ring, a digital voice recorder, a bracelet and a hand-sewn re-usable sandwich bag made by April’s mother, which wins by loud acclaim. Throughout the ensuing hour, amid the other activities, April expounds and expands upon the story surrounding the sandwich bag, which remains in plain view on a table.

Isaac starts making sandwiches, Laura joins him, a relationship develops … Jason tags Isaac off and a new scenario starts with Laura … April tags Laura off and develops a third relationship/ scenario with Jason … then at some point Laura  and April create a new relationship/ scenario.  These four stories are revisited throughout the show, with the tagging player asserting the right to initiate change. That is the ‘Harold’ component.

Meanwhile a large NZIF Ensemble creates a sea of movement as a backdrop or physical context for what’s emerging in the ‘Harold’. One person leads, others follow; another leader counterpoints with something different … Their contributions ebb and flow. Usually these offers are fairly literal if somewhat abstracted actions or movements based on what’s happening in the ‘Harold’ scene.

I find it hard to tune into the scenarios while simultaneously contemplating the rather earnestly-offered interpretative movement-cum-dance and generally it detracts from the stories rather than adding to them. But it does allow Jason, who has developed a break-up scenario with Laura, to observe that every time he reaches out to her, “There’s always something between us.” Well played!

The relationship break-up story seems to be separate from the sandwich-making family but eventually they merge, I think. It turns out Laura and Isaac are mother and son, and his Mum and Dad are breaking up – but not before Dad has a triple bypass operation. Now I could have sworn the call the son took from the hospital conveyed his dad had died on the operating table yet miraculously, and without fanfare, he returns to resume his role in the family tale. Either that or I have tangled two separate story threads.

There’s a baking theme that suddenly provokes two actors to become two ends of a loaf while another is used as a knife to slice them. Before that, one of the women has made a birthday cake that the other has rejected. Alice has picked up that they are sisters here and has to remind Laura of that when she asks Alice (or her character) to marry her. “I’m just so confused right now,” says Laura – and I venture to say so are we, which is why we don’t laugh heartily and applaud her speedy self-rescue.

Alice and Jason try to develop something involving a factory, I think, in heavy Scottish accents but I cannot get the hang of it. A basketball match comes into it, though. Then there is Jason’s solo chats about a man, his workshop and wood which seem to come from nowhere and go nowhere. Is it just that too much is being tossed into the mix?

There are some objectively intriguing moments when dramatic conflict – as in the couple breaking up – looks like offers are being blocked. They are not, of course, because the actors are agreeing to be disagreeable in this scenario but I do note that it’s on such occasions that a player may pause to think about what to say or do next, sapping the scene of spontaneity and causing the energy to drop. This would not automatically be ‘wrong’ if the pauses were dramatic and added power to the scene.

Two songs – one from Isaac and another from Laura, accompanied by the ever sensitive and responsive Oli Devlin on keys – vary the tone nicely. I can’t say I notice Uther Dean’s lighting much and I’m guessing it’s almost impossible for him to tune into a mood or quality sufficient to provoke an effect.

Overall lots of flotsam and jetsam is heaving in the tide of movement which we in the audience observe with interest but without experiencing much enjoyment. Nevertheless a worthy moral is wrought to bring it together: “Whether you are making a sculpture or sandwich, if you make it with love and with someone in mind …” This brings the focus back to a mother’s hand-crafted sandwich bag. And yes, BOOYA: Blow it Out Your Ahem has also been made with love: an undying love of improv by clearly talented practitioners.

I do feel compelled to note, however, that every time we type ‘improv’ in Word, Auto-correct changes it to ‘improve’ and in this case it’s appropriate. Not that I’m sorry I’ve seen it. It has provoked much thought about what works and what doesn’t, and why. Doubtless the participants will return to their home towns reinvigorated as a result.  


Make a comment

Wellingon City Council
Aotearoa Gaming Trust
Creative NZ
Auckland City Council