BATS Theatre, The Dome, 1 Kent Tce, Wellington

12/04/2024 - 12/04/2024

Production Details

Brendan West and Ben Zolno

Doom & Bloom

Everything is burning, and we need to accelerate it…

Through unscripted theatre, Doom & Bloom’s CONTROVERSY throws petrol on your innocent audience suggestion, or trivialises the greatest questions of our time.

The world has enough actual debate. This is not that. We’re prepared to punch up on nearly anything, especially if it’s irrelevant.

You’ll never be so happy to be dragged through the mud.

BATS Theatre, Dome
12 April, 2 May, 6 June
$25 waged, $15 unwaged

Doom & Bloom is an existential improv duo. With its name inspired by our founding work with Jonathan Pitts, Doom & Bloom takes a dark-comedy, realistic, theatrical approach to explore intense dilemmas of modern life.

Nominated as one of the top Improv Troupes for the World Comedy Awards as a duo, the individuals have very different improv backgrounds – one from the Chicago improv scene, the other self taught from Hamilton. The result is quite the clash… yet we continue.

Brendan West is an improvisor and theatre teacher from Hamilton, with 15 years experience in short form and devised theatre.

Ben Zolno is a filmmaker and improv teacher from Chicago, having trained at Second City, Annoyance, and UCB, and studied/performed at iO. He has 20 years experience, which he has used to teach several hundred students through his school Improv Connection, in Wellington.

Improv , Theatre ,

1 hour or less

They cleverly conjure a tragi-comic blend of deep humanity and topical satire

Review by John Smythe 13th Apr 2024

In a time of turmoil when endless controversy requires us to decide, and sometimes declare, where we stand on the countless issues that confront us, the existential improv duo Doom (Brendan West) and Bloom (Ben Zolno) turn it into a dramatic art form.

“Everything is burning, and we need to accelerate it,” their promo blurb says. “Through unscripted theatre, Doom & Bloom’s CONTROVERSY throws petrol on your innocent audience suggestion, or trivialises the greatest questions of our time.”

Asked for a controversial issue they can play with, this Friday night audience offers Public Service Job Cuts, The Moon Landing, the Cost of Living, and Dogs versus Cats. When Ben opts for the latter, we get the sense that Brendan would rather land on the moon or was it a studio replica, but – ironically, given the premise of this show – improv is founded on agreement, so Dogs v Cats it is.

What follows is not incendiary in a theatrically pyrotechnical sense, but it is true to another claim they make in their blurb: “Doom & Bloom takes a dark-comedy, realistic, theatrical approach to explore intense dilemmas of modern life.”

The presence of a beautifully mimed kitten, named Kittens, brings a gentle tenderness to the growing relationship between two ‘friends with benefits’ who may become more as Brendan, who prefers dogs, negotiates moving into Ben’s flat. (They don’t give each other character names so I have to go with theirs.) The early flush of their burgeoning relationship is tested by Kittens appearing to prefer Brendan. Ben, who claims he doesn’t need to be needed and he’s not possessive, also mentions, “Kittens did this with the last guy” – and Kittens escapes.  

When this provokes Ben’s recollection of being six and sick with allergies, a dramatic lighting change from operator Jeremy Palmer with an appropriate surge from Matt Hutton on keys, makes me anticipate a flashback scene. But no, we’re at a dog show where an ageing Poppa (Ben) turns out to be handing his beloved dog Harold over to judge-cum-trainer Jerry (Brendan). In a dark existential twist, Jerry starts training Poppa, weakened by diabetes, with pineapple lumps.

Next Ben becomes Mark, the proud father of Alexander (Brendan), trying to be positive about the Hello Kitty costume the boy is wearing, to go to a ball with Jessie (also Brendan) who arrives dressed as a robot. Power Rangers, Anime and Voltron come into the mix as solo father and only son try to bridge their generation gap. Is Mark trying too hard? Who needs to ease up? Who needs to ease down? Again true to their premise, converse forces are at play as a bloom of joy hopes to rise from existential doom.

Now we switch to politicians who purport to be in coalition. The National Party (Brendan) wants to ban cats, a la Gareth Morgan. The Act Party (Ben) wants to ban all non-tax-paying species. But the Nats want to bring in more exotic species. Act insists there should be no more freeloaders and wants everyone to pay tax as soon as they come out of the womb … Despite the odd proposition that Act is demanding more taxes, the inability of this coalition to coalesce is strangely resonant (even without NZ First in the mix).

The concluding scene brings us back to the flat-mate couple. They can’t afford to have a child (to save the relationship?) because of the new tax policy. Even Kittens has to pay tax. As heat-seeking drones traverse the sky above, ‘free range’ children clamour at the door seeking shelter … And here we get the exchange of the night:
– Why did I vote for this government?
– Because you wanted a change.

But wait, there may be hope with the tax write-offs for landlords. Can they use the homeless children to swing it? But what Brendan wants is a dog. The core controversy remains. 

I’ve detailed this iteration of CONTROVERSY a) because it will never play out this way again, and b) to prove how cleverly Doom & Bloom conjure a tragi-comic blend of deep humanity and topical satire. They return to BATS Dome with this format on Fridays 3 May and 7 June, 6.30pm.



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