GRAIN OF TRUTH: Live Recording

BATS Theatre, The Heyday Dome, 1 Kent Tce, Wellington

09/10/2015 - 09/10/2015

NZ Improv Festival 2015

Production Details

A comedy panel game show devised by David S. Innes from Melbourne, Australia.

Four panellists, representing different areas of academia, are battling out as to who can give the cleverest responses to the most ridiculous questions, scenarios and topics. Whoever gets the most points wins the coveted Grain of Truth prize.

Previous episodes at

BATS Theatre, 1 Kent Tce, Wellington 
Friday 9 October
$18 Full / $14 Concession / $13 Groups 6+ /
Two show pass: $30 Full / $25 Concession 
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Theatre , Improv ,

1 hr

Mostly sparking on all cylinders

Review by Lena Fransham 10th Oct 2015

This show is a version of the Australian podcast Grain of Truth, devised by David Innes. It’s a satirical game show in which the questions are ridiculous and answering them requires resourceful improvisation from its panellists. The panellist who gives the cleverest answer gets the points. 

David Innes is here in person to host this incarnation of his brainchild, joined by Woody Tuhiwai (addressed by David as ‘Boffins’) who keeps electronic score, with round-by-round announcements in his jovial gameshow baritone. A Dickensian theme is evident. Musician Oliver Devlin (nicknamed ‘Fingers McGee’ by David) provides authentic gameshow muzak. There are bowler hats and even a Dickensian Orphan (Cordelia Black) who comes in dressed like Oliver Twist and serves tea and sandwiches.  

This show seems to replicate the Australian model, even down to the dubiousness of the prizes that are offered. In the ‘Sudden Turnips’ round, rather than a prize to strive for, there’s a Dickensian booby prize which everyone is working hard not to win (a bite of a raw turnip). Brave Penny Ashton gets the honour of biting the turnip. As for the overall prize, the winner of this show will be the honour of choosing Australia’s prime minister. A prize indeed! 

There are four panellists – Uther Dean, Lori Leigh, Dan Allan and Penny Ashton – each ostensibly representing a university and a particular academic discipline. The ‘Expert Confidence’ round features some improv highlights as the panellists demonstrate their storytelling adaptability. The question is: “Is it better in life to plan rather than improvise?”

Each panellist must improvise a 90-second TED-style talk addressing the theme from the perspective of their chosen specialisation. Uther Dean’s special topic is stationery, Lori’s is Southern American culture, Dan’s is geography, Penny’s is Jane Austen.

Uther works hard to show a relationship between stationery and improvisation, getting comic value from the impossibility of the task. “You can’t be stationary with stationery,” he concludes authoritatively.

Lori (originally from Georgia /Tennessee) spills a wonderful litany of Southern American stereotypes, deftly working in an angle about improvisational living: “Dates are something you go on with your cousin, not what you put in your diary” (paraphrasing here!). She channels the TED expert with ironic flair. If we don’t like it, she concludes, “You can all kiss my grits.”

Dan introduces his geography talk with a famous palindrome: a man a plan a canal panama, in itself a concrete testament to careful planning and an apt launching point for his talk about the fastidious marvel of engineering that is the Panama Canal. And indeed I wonder how he is doing this talk without loads of pre-planning because it’s so neatly laid out and tied together, but the adept application to the theme at hand paradoxically demonstrates a mastery of improvisation.

Penny and Dan have a buoyant little running banter that flavours their individual contributions. In her talk, Penny draws on illustrations from the life of Jane Austen to show the importance of NOT planning, but rather seizing the day and marrying the rich guy. Jane might have lived beyond the age of forty-two, and in places she actually liked, rather than Bath which she hated, if she hadn’t prudently reconsidered her initial acceptance of the rich guy’s proposal. If she’d been more whimsical she might have written hundreds of Mills and Boon-type novels instead of just painstakingly plotting out five quality ones for posterity. Penny’s anecdotes seem to contain references wherever possible to a Canadian town she went to called Regina. ‘The town that rhymes with fun!’

All bloody clever compositions on the hop, although I most like Lori’s and Dan’s for ingenious tailor-fitting. Penny is announced the winner of that round.  David keeps it rolling through four rounds, intermittently picking up random topics from panellist’s discussions and spinning them out for entertainment value – or anti-entertainment value, like the conversation about what typeface font they each prefer, which is surprisingly funny.

There are lulls in the laughs; some rounds have more life than others. I’m a tad bored by the exercise of ‘ten things not to say to a teacher’. But the demands of fast creative thinking in this game are high, so on the improv front the panellists are mostly sparking on all cylinders. And the frequent roars and groans from the audience certainly demonstrate full engagement.  

Boffins announces Penny the overall winner. She is quick to claim her lofty prize, appointing Julia Gillard prime minister of Australia. 


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