FatG: Fringe at the Gryphon, 22 Ghuznee Street, Wellington

07/03/2024 - 09/03/2024

NZ Fringe Festival 2024

Production Details

Created by Kathryn Fitzpatrick, Jon Mandeno and Clare Rousseau
Coached by Ben Zolno

Next Door Improv

This improv show explores what happens when we don’t speak the truth. After giving a suggestion, the audience is invited to dive beneath the seemingly smooth surface to discover a delightful world of confusion and frayed connections.
Each show is created from scratch by Next Door Improv, a Wellington trio known for sharply funny stories about the highs and lows of being human.

Next Door Improv is a trio of seasoned Wellington improvisers. Kathryn Fitzpatrick, Jon Mandeno, and Clare Rousseau have performed improv together for five years. They formed Next Door in 2022 to create emotionally grounded shows that blur the line between improv and scripted theatre. They are coached by Ben Zolno, founder of Improv Connection and leader in the Wellington improv scene. Next Door Improve have put on shows at the 2023-24 Fringe Festival, and the NZ Improv Festival.

FatG (Gryphon Theatre – Ghuznee St)
7-9 March
Full $18
Concession/student $15
NZ Fringe Festival

Cast: Kathryn Fitzpatrick, Jon Mandeno, and Clare Rousseau
Coach: Ben Zolno

Theatre , Improv ,

55 mins

Serious, fraught, silly, sexy, bizarre, quirky, frantic spontaneity

Review by Cordy Black 08th Mar 2024

The trio of Kathryn Fitzpatrick, Jon Mandeno and Clare Rousseau return for another season of Left Unsaid, creating a single, unique one-hour story each night. It is a delight to watch seasoned theatre professionals show their playful trust in each other across a longer format.

Many people consider improvisational theatre to be about gags, short vignettes or flights of imagination – surface level nuggets of wit and storytelling that we glean before we move on, swiftly, to fresh territory. Left Unsaid goes after buried treasure. It asks what could happen when players do not immediately let each other win, what happens when we allow dishonesty, wilful misunderstanding and concealment of truths to live in a theatrical space that usually rushes to whip out all the stops and smash-cut straight to the emotional intimacy.

One classic rule of improvisation is that players are supposed to cooperate, working tirelessly to make each other look good onstage. Next Door Improv’s Coach, Ben Zolno, elects to twist that formula slightly. The extra breathing room in Left Unsaid‘s format lets all the players tease each other, making their stage partners really work for that resolution.

Fitzpatrick mercilessly dominates a couple’s argument in two scenes. She revels in letting Mandeno stew in his own broken logic or his (out of character) slip of the tongue. But she cleverly makes this a sin of his character, not the fault of the actor. The audience draws in a collective breath seeing a familiar triumphant smirk on her face and the guilty squirm of Mandeno’s posture, and we are back inside the story: Mandeno’s character is skewered and everyone in the theatre instinctively knows it. It feels raw, perfectly imperfect and real despite the aleatory setting. Together we ride out the surrealism, sit with the cringe, let the building discomfort settle and sit until it is the right time for us all to find the next story beat.

All of this makes it sound as though the show is very serious and fraught. On the contrary, there are many silly and sexy moments to be had. We pick up on bizarre little callbacks, we see quirky side characters pop up and vanish, we laugh at frantic body-doubling paradoxes – all the wonderful nonsense that guarantees we’re seeing something spontaneous.

The only audience prompt that Mandeno asks of the audience is the setting, right at the start. This night they on board a cruise ship. Everything else comes out of the players: their observational skills, their imagination and their sibling-like, mischievous enjoyment of each other.

Rousseau’s Freudian character study of a neurotic, style-obsessed middle aged son is particularly striking. Her antics never quite land in the camp of clowning, yet Rousseau draws howls of laughter from the audience. The role has dramatic consistency and a charm to it, but at the same time the character is truly unhinged.

All the core characters have a similar sympathetic but deeply flawed nature to them. They feel properly human and relatable in the same way that a soap opera’s characters might do over time, seducing viewers over the course of a season. But here, we only have an hour in a black-box theatre with three chairs to accomplish all this emotional heavy lifting. The results are quite lovely.

If you have ever been curious about long form improv, but worried that it might seem daunting, go see this show. You’ll wish to spend even more time with these three fantastic actors and their characters’ terrible life choices. 


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