NZ vs The World 2023

BATS Theatre, The Stage, 1 Kent Tce, Wellington

14/10/2023 - 14/10/2023

NZ Improv Festival 2023

Production Details


What better way to cap off a week of improvised magic and mayhem, than a head-to-head battle between some of its shining lights?

We’re bringing together some of the finest improvisors from around Aotearoa to take on the Visitors, the Johnny-Come-Lately types who have flown in from overseas just for the festival.

Join us to cheer on New Zealand (or The World, I suppose, if you’re into that sort of thing) and celebrate the end of the New Zealand Improv Festival!

Cast TBA, will be updated here:

BATS Theatre
14 Oct 2023

Cast TBA
Operated by Darryn Woods

Improv , Theatre ,

60 mins

A high-energy, silly, fun and super successful end to a high-energy, silly, fun and super successful Festival

Review by Tara McEntee 16th Oct 2023

New Zealand vs the World is one of the highlights of the New Zealand Improv Festival – it concludes a week of connection, performance and learning for the improv community across the motu and abroad, and this year it does not disappoint as a showcase of the talent, experience and spirit of the festival.

The new co-directors of the Festival, Jim Fishwick and Matt Powell, introduce are two teams, three musos (Liam Kelly on keys, Isaac Thomas on guitar, and Finn McKinlay on trombone), a “totally impartial judge”, (Brendon Bennetts) and a talented lighting and tech operator (D’ Woods). I have to say, the inclusion of the trombone in the three-piece band is epic – it adds production value and comedic juice that I’ve never seen in an improv show before. Finn McKinlay as a muso and as an improviser is one to watch.

Team ‘The World’, clad in colourful outfits, is made up of Jim Fishwick (Eora/Sydney), Carla Haynes (Meanjin/Brisbane), Emilia Higgs (Eora/Sydney), Imogen B-W (Meanjin/Brisbane), Bianca Casusol (USA), Matias Avaca (Argentina), Chantal Lim (Canada), Mark Grimes (Scotland), and Luke Foale (Tarndanya/Adelaide).

Team ‘New Zealand’ in traditional ‘All-Black’, is made up of Matt Powell, Gab Raz, Criss Grueber, Ralph Hilaga, Maria Williams, Guanny Lui-Prosee, Hannah Taylor, and ex-director and board member of the New Zealand Improvisation Trust, Jennifer O’Sullivan.

In my opinion, plot summaries of improv are pointless; you’re never going to see the same show twice, so there is little point in giving a blow by blow of the evening. But in brief, the show consists of teams challenging each other, and the audience voting on their favourite of the scenes in each round via applause, ably and fairly judged by consummate professional and improv lifeguard Brendon Bennetts.

With an hour and a half of content, there are very few moments where the show lags in energy or pace. While the teams are large and the stage is full, most players each get a moment to shine.

Team New Zealand is made up of some exciting new improvisers on the New Zealand scene, and some familiar safe and hilarious faces. After a slightly slow start, the team get a pep talk from audience member and coach Alex, and they really come into their own in the final two thirds of the show.

Criss Grueber’s performance is impeccable; his solo scene describing his relationship with the desert of Australia and its creatures is mesmerising, his play on the phrase ‘rolling hills’ leaves the audience laughing for hours post show, and his performance in team New Zealand’s epic Shakespeare rivals that of any player on the Globe Stage. Criss is a powerhouse improviser and every second of his stage time is captivating. Any opportunity to see Criss light up a stage should be taken up with gusto.

Props also go to Maria Williams from team New Zealand for her epic solo song parodying a New Zealand pop icon, backed up and supported by her team, but with utter confidence in her own performance. Maria is always a joy to watch, she is unself-conscious on stage and has the ability to make the audience feel safe in any and all wacky and seemingly dangerous scenarios.

Team ‘The World’ is made up of some regulars at the Improv Festival, and some newcomers.

Highlights include Mark Grimes’ impeccable New Zealand accent, Emila Higgs’ song about Fruit Loops, Bianca Casusol’s Western kazooing, and a combo scene between Jim Fishwick, Chantal Lim and Matias Avaca where not a word is spoken in English, nor any other common language between the three.

Team ‘The World’ brings energy and effervescence to the stage, breaking out in chants of “World, World, World” at every opportunity, and really playing as a team through the whole night, although special mention does go to Emilia Higgs – not for any special scene or performance, but because every second she is on stage, I find myself leaning forward in my chair in anticipation of what she will do next, Her performance at all times is delightful, endearing and charismatic.

The camaraderie of the teams is evident, both within, and across the sides. After a week of intense learning, performing and socialising, how could it not all be just a bit of a laugh? The musos on the stage are all improvisers in their own right, and their talent and musicianship is awe-inspiring. Perhaps the show is let-down somewhat by the number of players on the stage; there are times when I wish I could see a bit more of some players and a bit less of others. However, overall the performances are strong, the evening is slick, and the happiness in the room is palpable.

New Zealand vs the World is a high-energy, silly, fun and super successful end to a high-energy, silly, fun and super successful Festival. With the dates for next year’s Festival already announced (4 October – 12 October 2024), I highly recommend you get in early to be a part of this event, whether as a participant or a spectator; it never disappoints.  


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