BATS Theatre (Out-Of-Site) Cnr Cuba & Dixon, Wellington

28/10/2014 - 28/10/2014

NZ Improv Festival 2014

Production Details

Who said Theatresports? The Harold is an improvised three-act play, and the ultimate test for any improviser. Created in Chicago by master comedy teacher Del Close, Harold is the signature show of theatre company iO (Improv Olympic), whose students – Tina Fey, Stephen Colbert and Mike Meyers, to name a few – continue to stoke the comedy fires of Saturday Night Live and Hollywood movies. 

Directed by iO alumnus Lori Leigh (This Fair Verona,Revelations) PlayShop is putting up an elite team of players to tackle one of improv’s most challenging formats. Rock up, throw in your suggestions, and kick us off for an hour of white-knuckled comedy never before attempted at the New Zealand Improv Festival. 

PlayShop constitutes a new generation of Wellington performers, drawing from a pool of Toi Whakaari, Long Cloud Youth Theatre, and Victoria University grads and students, all with a vested interest in theatre. As such, PlayShop is characterised by intelligence, energy, solid stagecraft, theatricality and emotional honesty. We believe the skills and philosophies of performance can be used to create exciting, risky, accessible theatre of all types. 

Part of the New Zealand Improv Festival
28 October – 1 November at BATS (Out of Site)
3 show passes available! Contact the Box Office for more information – book@bats.co.nz

Follow the festival online…

Tue 28 Oct 9:30pm

Ticket Prices
Full $18.00 
Concession $14.00 
Group 6+ $13.00


Ambitious format sort of succeeds

Review by Shannon Friday 29th Oct 2014

The thing that I like about Playshop is that I always want them to succeed, mainly because I see them trying out ideas as a group that I don’t see many others playing with. 

And so it is with Harold.  In Harold, Playshop’s two groups of eight performers each takes a turn at making a Harold.  Do they succeed? 

A Harold is an improv form that takes a suggestion from the audience and lets the performers jam with it.  After an initial period of exploring the idea (here a series of monologues that switches between performers), the group creates three distinct scenarios.  Each evolves through three scenes, laying out a classic Hollywood three act structure, in which you set up the conflict in the first, escalate in the second and resolve in the third. 

The form demands a lot of narrative skill – playing cute games won’t get you very far here, although a couple of group game interludes are nice ‘palate cleansers’ in between the narrative scenes.  Ideally, by the end of the night, the storylines will have converged like in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels or Pulp Fiction.

The first group is really skilled at setting up strong dramatic situations and has a good grasp of a traditional three-act structure.  Given the object “bow and arrow”, they riff for a few minutes before coming up with the storylines of feuding pigeons at an archery range, an art student desperate to stay in school but haunted by his teacher’s favouritism, and… something else. 

Ok, so the first two storylines are really strong.  The stories are all satisfying somehow, from George Fenn’s descent to artistic depravity to the entire casts’ involvement as pigeons bent on vengeance.  There are some nice moments of re-incorporation, and I kind of wish these had been pushed further to help the storylines converge.  But all in all, a very entertaining time here.

The second group is slightly less skilled at narrative.  Many scenes don’t actually find their driver – whether that be genre, character or metaphor – until their third act.  A clearer initial conflict – and then sticking to what you set up – is totally necessary to making this form succeed, and this group misses the mark. 

The storylines get close but there’s a lot of time spent on setup rather than payoff.  For example, in the bowling alley scene, James Cain stage whispers, “The bowling alley after dark is his dark side.  Can we establish that as the symbolism of this scene?”  Yes, you totally can…. the first time that scene appears, maybe second if you’re pushing the mystery element.  By the third time, you need to know the story you’re telling. 

And that’s kind of the deal with this group – the strongest offers come very late in the game.  For example, in a storyline involving Brynley Stent as a young girl desperate to make friends but impeded by her social awkwardness and even more awkward Dad, the ‘curveball’ is thrown into the third scene: that living with her now-abusive dad has made Stent’s character agoraphobic.  Stent and her scene partner James Cain play this for all they can, but it feels like too big a jump too late in the show at the expense of the story that has been building.  The cast have a wonderful ability to build on each other’s offers, but need to learn to trust their initial suggestions. 

However, their group games are freaking amazing!  A scene in which the actors all play bowling pins enacting their personal conflicts as the ball rolls towards them is one of the funniest things I’ve seen all night.  Kudos to the company for jumping on Stevie Hancock-Monk’s suggestion and running with it.  I’d like to see this dedication to an idea folded into the narrative side of things. 

Still, I really enjoyed this show.  And I like the ambition of this format, which forces performers to consider many types of conflict and story.  So do they succeed?  Yeah, kind of.  And I would definitely go again to see how the groups themselves grow and change and what they create.


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