The All-New Old-Time Radio Show

BATS Theatre, Wellington

12/01/2006 - 21/01/2006

Production Details

Wellington Improvisation Troupe (WIT)

Classic comedy made up before your ears! The All-New Old-Time ‘Radio Show!’ is a totally improvised comedy show in the style of the golden age of radio, created and performed by leading improvisers from the Wellington Improvisation Troupe (WIT) (winners of the New Zealand Fringe Festival Best Comedy Award 2003).

Using only the technology of the era, WIT’s radio players will take you back to a surreal summer of 1930 and a simpler time of stories, songs and standard King’s English. This kiwiana variety show will vary every evening, and be completely unscripted and based entirely on suggestions from the BATS ‘live studio’ audience.

Radio actors: Nicola Hill, Ryan Hartigan, Simon Smith, Peter Hodgson
Sound FX: Anton Van Helden and Richard Samaeli
Musician: James Burgess 
Studio supervision: Paul Sullivan, Kirsten Price.

Theatre , Improv ,

1 hr

Improv show should improve

Review by John Smythe 20th Feb 2006

While Improvisation before a live audience is not for the faint-hearted, it stands as a model for productive team work in any context.

Public improvisation made its first tentative outing in Wellington in 1969 at Downstage, in the form of Yes Games, introduced by Ian Mune who had learned the art in Wales from Keith Johnstone, who went on to found the Theatre Sports phenomenon. Since then a vast range of formats have evolved as popular entertainments in theatre and on TV (e.g. Whose Line is it Anyway?).

In its purest form actors start with no preconceptions whatsoever. They become match-fit by training to enter, exit and, while they’re on, accept all offers with alacrity, without blocking each other or wimping out.

It is because the audience knows the rules, and they get to suggest or select topics, settings, names, events, themes, genres, etc, then appreciate the performers’ skill in integrating them into the evolving improv, that entertainment ensues. Rarely would any work thus created succeed re-performed as a preconceived piece. In essence, you have to be there at the moment of creation.

At Bats the Wellington Improvisation Troupe (WIT) is offering a highly formatted concept with The All-New Old-Time Radio Show, using their notions of a 1930s-style radio show as their springboard. Nicola Hill, Ryan Hartigan, Simon Smith and Peter Hodgson bring pre-developed personae to the microphones while Anton Van Helden and Richard Samaeli provide live sound effects and James Burgess plays the organ, all under the studio supervision of Paul Sullivan and his lovely assistant Kirsten Price.

The substantive radio serial segments adhere to the rules set out above – with key input from the audience – and therefore, because the team is highly skilled, they generate the most fun. But, on opening night at least, some segments fell short of their entertainment potential because it was not clear they were being improvised. If the topics for Home Handyman Hints and great Works of Literature came from the audience, I didn’t hear them or see them listed on the blackboard.

The audience rose to their feet as one for a rousing rendition of God Save the King (words and music thoughtfully provided in the excellent ‘Radio Times’ programme but because the houselights stayed down they were unreadable). Requests for the audience to provide sound effects at certain points fell flat, however, because the actions or events described did not involve clear sounds. Keep it simple, I suggest, and don’t make your audience feel inadequate.

That said, teething problems are inevitable with a new format and I have little doubt WIT will have used their opening week to get their new show humming.

Having a philosophy of innovation and accessibility, WIT says "every Wellingtonian can download parts of the show onto their personal MP3 for free, and enjoy a live theatre experience while walking our streets" and they tell punters to "check out our podcast updates [at]". But at the time of writing there is no sign of that option and I can’t help wondering if, when they came to edit and upload it, the "you had to be there" factor prevailed.


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Many memorable moments

Review by Lynn Freeman 18th Jan 2006

THIS improvised take on the golden olden days of radio is a terrific idea – the children’s stories, tips for the homemakers and of course the cliff hanger-driven cheesy serial.

Not a CD special effect to be found, all generated on stage with anything from tubs of water to coconuts to door boxes. Smashing!

The Wellington Improvisation Troupe (WIT) have put a huge amount of effort into realising this show, right down to the brilliant programme in the form of the WIT Radio Times.

There’s live music to accompany the live sound effects artists, a studio manager and his assistant keeping the cast and audience on cue and in line. There’s a structure in terms of the order of mini-programmes all based on ideas from the audience (gathered cleverly and effectively with bribes of chocolate) and a lot of practice on the part of Ryan Hartigan (the MC), Nicola Hill, Simon Smith and Peter Hodgson. And the whole show is podcast to the nation and to the world.

On opening night audience suggestions to be incorporated into the radio show ranged from Twizel to tying up shoelaces. Our radio drama was a horror story called Radio Ghosts involving flesh-eating rats, an Igor-type character, a mad crone and a lisping anti-hero.

The telling of the children’s story was hampered by most of the actors not knowing the Rumplestiltskin tale and MC Gadget Izard’s best efforts to get them on track were to no avail.

Wuthering Heights was condensed to two lines, which is no mean feat, and the SFX team created sounds ranging from sinister bubbling brews to a Stewart Island southerly blast.

There were many memorable moments but ultimately (and understandably) it was wildly uneven with a few too many unfunny sequences and lapses in storytelling. It will sharpen up as the season progresses.


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Plunge without a parachute

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 16th Jan 2006

Taking the plunge once again without a parachute into the abyss of improvised comedy is The Wellington Improvisation Group (WIT), setting its latest show in a 1930s radio studio where four performers, a musician, two sound effects men, an harassed Studio Manager and his excitable assistant not only read the news and the weather forecast but also perform a radio play chosen by the audience from various genres.

The evening starts with everyone singing God save the King. The actors are dressed in something approximating 1930s evening wear (a Noel Coward dressing gown, a long black evening dress) and the audience is told by cue cards when to applaud or boo. The opening night audience chose a horror story but it could have been an adventure story, a Western, a detective story or Science Fiction.

The plot of the horror story soon became hopelessly tangled but Nicola Hill, Ryan Hartigan, Simon Smith, and Peter Hodgson somehow kept it bubbling along with occasional outbreaks of corpsing, while Richard Samaeli and Anton van Helden frantically supported them with sound effects. Serenely in the background James Burgess provided a continual flow of music on his repaired organ.

Of interest is that the show is the first theatre show in Wellington to be ‘podcast’ on the internet on WIT’s website.  They are also collecting in the foyer before the show starts donations to support the work of the Royal NZ Foundation of the Blind in buying a valuable new "Talking Book" for Foundation members.

For improvisational comedy to fully succeed the planet, not to mention the performers’ and the audiences’ powers of wit and instantaneous invention, have to be in alignment on the night. On opening night I felt that it was all a bit ragged, as if they – and the audience – were in a warm-up stage. Maybe tomorrow night everything and everyone will all lined up and there won’t be a dry seat in the house. That’s the nature of improv.


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