Farce Onion 2024

BATS Theatre, The Stage, 1 Kent Tce, Wellington

21/05/2024 - 25/05/2024

NZ International Comedy Festival 2024

Production Details


Original format created by Stevie Hancox-Monk & Ryan Knighton

PopRox


Farce Onion is an improvised comedy by one of Wellington’s top improv companies PopRox. With a rotating cast and guest players to boot, this detective parody is sure to have you hooked from the get-go. All that’s left now is to figure out who did it?

BATS Theatre – The Stage
21-25 May, 8pm
$25-30
https://bats.co.nz/whats-on/farce-onion/


Cast:
Tara McEntee
Dylan Hutton
Austin Harrison
Nina Hogg
Jed Davies
Jonny Paul
Millie Osborne

Musicians:
Lia Kelly
Amy Kelly


Improv , Theatre , Comedy ,


50mins

Bold and zingy character work makes it so endearing

Review by Emma Maguire 22nd May 2024

Wellington improv stalwarts PopRox are here this Comedy Festival with Farce Onion, a deliriously fun murder mystery, created by wildly talented improvisers Stevie Hancox-Monk and Ryan Knighton.

A quick disclosure – I’ve personally performed in this show, in last year’s New Zealand Improv Fest, so I have a bit more of a grasp on the mechanics of the piece than most audience members would. 

Our detective today is Ms Maple (Tara McEntee) – I’ll give you no points for guessing the character inspiration – who’s on her very last day of her holiday. Unfortunately, as holidays go for someone of the crime-solving persuasion, disaster’s about to strike. 

After some ask-fors from the audience (we find ourselves at a “fancy picnic”, with a murder weapon of a “sausage”), we’re off to the races. Picnic influencer Giselle (Millie Osborne) has been hit in the head with a frozen sausage and killed at Kilbirnie Park. Our cast of suspects include Andreas Barker (Jonny Paul), figurehead of the Barker’s spread empire; 84-year-old Derek (Austin Harrison), who runs the New Zealand Picnic Association; grass moisturist and dendrophile Charles Bobbins (Dylan Hutton) and charcuterie master France Ferdinand (Nina Hogg).

PopRox is a notable name in Wellington improv, and for good reason. This show, which I would argue has a greater degree of technical complexity than a lot of improv, rolls through a series of interconnected scenes and pieces-to-audience before Ms Maple finds us an evildoer at the end. 

If you’re playing the detective character (as Tara McEntee is), you need to draw the story threads together – vaguely logically – to find a murderer, and if you’re playing the victim or suspects, you need to portray your character in such a way that shows that you could be guilty but doesn’t completely implicate you. Think of any murder mystery novel, and the many webs that tie it together. Now imagine doing that completely improvised.

The challenge, thereby, lies in making a satisfying, hilarious story with punchy characters and all the beats of a murder mystery narrative. Does Farce Onion succeed? Indubitably.

These performers are all at the top of their game and they riff off each other so well, really showcasing the level of experiential chemistry they all have with each other. The physicalising of character is very well done, though I must make special note to Austin Harrison’s performance of Derek – having an 84-year-old father of my own, he’s got the mannerisms and attitude nailed.

Nina Hogg’s France Ferdinand is – as you’d guess – very French, very capricious and often full of wink-wink-nudge-nudge joie de vivre; Jonny Paul’s Andreas a standoffish, principled company owner; Millie Osborne’s Giselle very used to the spotlight (and it is a credit to her acting that she pushes the role just far enough that she would be the character to get murdered in a murder mystery), and Dylan Hutton’s Charles is just deeply insane.

It is the boldness and zinginess of this character work that makes it so endearing, especially since the PopRox team are all very lovely people in real life. 

Also, as a Comedy Fest addendum, the entire show is hilarious. Frequently I feel as though I might be verging on interrupting the show with my giggles. It’s not just clever dialogue, but great physicality and a willingness for nonsense that pushes wonderfully far. This company is so talented at what they do, and you’re missing out by not being there to see it.

An additional note, Lia Kelly (keys) and Amy Kelly (violin) underscore this work with a haunting, pacy series of numbers that are deeply reminiscent to those from certain filmic properties with similar titles to this show. This layer of musicality is very much to Farce Onion’s benefit, pushing the narrative along with quite some dramatic flair.

I really like this show as a concept, the character work is always fabulous and absolutely worth your time, but there’s something about the format that still feels like it’s missing something. Almost every single character moment is expositional and designed to push the detective towards discovering whodunnit. It would be interesting to view these characters outside of that drive-to-solve-a-problem context. I don’t know if that’s possible within the wider structure of the show or within these time constraints, but improv formats do evolve over time, so I look forward t seeing where it lands next.

Farce Onion is on for another four shows at BATS Theatre, and I intend to be there for at least three of them. It’s a brilliant, tears-of-laughter-ensuing time, and you should be there to see it too.

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