29/10/2014 - 29/10/2014
Wellington Improv Troupe brings a fresh new take to the classic fairytale format.
This show has all the elements of a traditional pantomime: a dame, a love story, tight tights and an all-singing, all-dancing cast. And you, our audience, will provide the turning points of the story, as well as the usual “oohs” and “he’s behind you” audience interaction. The louder, the better!
The Wellington Improvisation Troupe (WIT) is Wellington’s not-for-profit, community-based improvisational theatre group. Theatre is made up on the spot by some of Wellington’s leading improvisers and courageous newcomers alike, based on suggestions from the audience. WIT players share a love of storytelling and work together as a team to inspire the audience. WIT theatre is sometimes serious, often hilarious and always totally unpredictable.
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 – firstname.lastname@example.org
BATS (Out of Site)
Wed 29 Oct 8:00 pm
Group 6+ $13.00
Infectious reckless abandon
Review by Alex Wilson 30th Oct 2014
Pantomimes are a carnival. They offer a liminal space where tyrants can be mocked, fools are our heroes and the audience can come together as an infantile mass to celebrate all that is vulgar, admonish all that is uncharitable and break any sense of theatrical decorum with shouts of “He’s behind you!”
In this sense Wellington Improvisation Troupe (WIT) presents an extremely good pantomime. Robbie Ellis, as muso (in his final show with WIT), sets the scene playing some form of whistle /pipe contraption as he ducks and darts out of the doorways with Hamelinesque glee. The cast all follow falling into their panto part of choice. Adam Williamson as the Dame takes on his part with particular gusto chastising the audience, and his fellow performers, whenever they get the rules of the form wrong.
The story, which is always of least importance in a panto, follows our hero Jack (played by the charming Mary Little) in his quest to stop the villain (the constantly corpsing Lyndon Hood) from forcing his village to eat low brand sausages for reasons that aren’t particularly clear but have something to do with trying to “force two sausages in at once” in his youth.
The true indicator that this is a solid Panto does not necessarily come from what occurs on stage but from the audience’s reaction. The crowd is at times almost rioting, to the point you wonder if Williamson and his troupe are beginning to doubt their encouragement of audience interaction. I have never heard such blood curling cries of “mince him!” being echoed through BATS Theatre – but then I guess that is a very specific turn of phrase.
Improv survives on its audience’s input and ability to buy into whatever follows from their meagre ask-for. Panto requires this even more so, due to its ramping up of the absurdity curve. While initially a little quiet to begin with, there is no question this audience has bought into the carnival feel. This seems to coincide with the introduction of Perry the calamitous panto horse (Geoff Symons, Front; Barry Miskimmin, Back) whose plans, and more importantly costume, never ever really come together. Perry is almost the symbol of the show: reckless abandon – and it is infectious.
While the show succeeds as a pantomime, being part of an improv festival, it really should be judged on its demonstration of improvisational form and technique. In this sense WIT’s Panto is left a little wanting, the troupe often not clicking, with many scenes taking a while to find what the ‘game’ is, or the dragging out of a scene after the transaction has already occurred. Instead of working together to solve the scene, at times it seems each performer is trying to upstage the other.
But one could argue that is the point of this show. Panto-improv (or in WIT’s presentation of it) not only tries to subvert societal norm but also improv convention. They are aiming for the belly laughs, not the technically sound scene – and it works. The audience are here for a good time and when the actors fail this only leads to laughter and cheers.
The improv may not be as sound as it could be but that’s a point of a panto: the rules are thrown out. You can gag, you can corpse, you can tread water for several moments as you think of new ideas. You can even try to wrap up the show 30 minutes ahead of time before realising that is probably a bad idea and quickly inventing some ridiculous way of dismantling your ending. The only proviso is that fun is had in the committing of these improv sins.
It then goes without saying that the best parts of the show are when the performers fully embrace the silliness of the situation. When there is hesitation or doubt, the carnival stops, such as the length of time it takes the cast to filter through the ask-fors from the audience. In future shows, it would be nice to see the performers really buy in to the panto ‘game’ further. For example if your audience yells “He’s behind you!” the obvious answer is to reply that he isn’t and the audience should be ashamed for these lies.
Yes, some bits do drag on (or flat out do not make sense) and some puns should be checked to make sure they do in fact contain any sense of entendre, but I’d dare any audience member to say that they have left that theatre without letting out a least one hearty belly laugh at some part of the Panto’s events.
The most impressive part of the ensemble is their ability to say true to that most noble of improv’s tenets: saying yes. In spite of all the ridiculousness and chaos that surrounds them, they take it all (largely) in their stride, with a smile on their face and we know that they will steer this ship home.
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