BATS Theatre, The Stage, 1 Kent Tce, Wellington

17/02/2023 - 18/02/2023

NZ Fringe Festival 2023

Production Details

Directed by Jennifer O'Sullivan

Produced by Locomotive

Brace yourself for an epic improv faceoff. The Hearts stand valiant in one corner. The Bones hunger for glory in the other. You, the audience, decide the champion. But hey, the points are made up and everyone’s having a great time! The NZ premier of the long-running Aussie smash hit.

The Big HOO HAA! is a competitive improv comedy show founded in Perth in 2002. The Big HOO-HAA! then arrived in Melbourne in July 2010 where it quickly became the go-to for audiences seeking a riotous alternative to traditional comedy nights. Both city’s shows have run almost continuously since, delivering gleeful audiences and glowing reviews:

“The big hoo-haa! Is a laugh riot that has the audience roaring so loudly they almost can’t catch their breath… The very best of monty python’s flying circus and whose line is it anyway” The West Australian

“improvised comedy at its absolute funniest.” Time Out

“impossible not to have a good time.” Herald Sun

Locomotive is thrilled to be hosting its first international iteration with The Big HOO HAA! Pōneke, and to be stepping into the very big shoes worn by our Australian improv colleagues. Of course, Locomotive is no stranger to long running shows garnering glowing praise, with Late Night Knife Fight running since 2016 and One Act/Play since 2020.

Featuring some of Pōneke’s most beloved improv stars including Pippa Drakeford, Guanny Liu-Prosee, Dianne Pulham, Elliott Lam, Wiremu Tuhiwai, Tara McEntee, Megan Connolly, Nina Hogg, Matt Hutton, Malcolm Morrison, Matt Powell and more! And directed by Fringe veteran Jennifer O’Sullivan (Spirit of the Fringe 2014, Tastiest Show 2016, and various other nominations).

Bats Theatre, The Stage
17 & 18 February 2023
8.30 pm



Including Pippa Drakeford, Guanny Liu-Prosee, Dianne Pulham, Elliott Lam, Wiremu Tuhiwai, Tara McEntee, Megan Connolly, Nina Hogg, Matt Hutton, Malcolm Morrison, and Matt Powell

Theatre , Improv , Comedy ,

1 hr

The vocal enthusiasm of the large crowd of improv enthusiasts attests to the quality of this format and its execution

Review by John Smythe 19th Feb 2023

Local improv group Locomotive have imported a new (to Wellington) show concept from Perth via Melbourne and claimed it as their own: The Big HOO HAA! PŌNEKE. They’ve brought it to NZ Fringe 2023 platform for two outings and plan to make it a regular stop in the improv calendar down the track. We are at the second night.

Banners in the BATS foyer and on stage feature a QR code which those in the know can use to give ‘ask fors’, by answering a range on questions. Tonight’s Scorekeeper (Alayne Dick) doesn’t see them until she open the onstage laptop at her post.

Malcolm Morrison is our avuncular Host and Referee, with whistle attached. He introduces muso Matt Hutton at the keyboard(s) and tells us Jennifer O’Sullivan is ‘the voice’ who introduced him and also working the lights. We, the audience, are the judges. All these roles are fulfilled with aplomb.

As indicated on the boxing-themes banners, The Big HOO HAA! (we are trained to join in the HOO HAA!) sees two teams face off: the valiant Hearts Vs the hungry Bones. Tonight in the red corner, the Hearts are Liz Butler, Maria Williams and Sam Irwin. The Bones, in the Black corner, are Ben Jardine, Dianne Pulham and Gab Raz. And boy are they ready to rumble!

Never fear, despite being competitive, improv is all about agreement and co-operation – although Maria brings her trademark confrontational energy to the match by way of emulating the loudmouths of that appalling so-called sport called boxing. Rest assured no brains are damaged or blood is spilt over the next 100-odd minutes (with interval).

Round One is called ‘Rhyming’ and yes, it challenges the team to rhyme words. Bones wins that one. Round Two, ‘Sidelines’, becomes an Endowment race where movie pitches have to involve three things (a topic, a location, the lead actor) mostly sourced from the ask-fors, then mimed by a member of each team to be guessed by their team mates who have been banished during the run-up. The location Uranus generated the most fun. Bones takes that one too.

Round Three is ‘Team Choice’. Hearts choose a Genre Replay game where the improvise the same scene – regarding the provenance and cultivation of popcorn – as Documentary, Fairytale and Action Drama. Bones opts for ‘Actors Nightmare’ where one actor improvises while the other can only respond with lines from a scripted play – in this case A Taste of Honey by Shelagh Delaney (aged 19, first performed in 1958) for which a text is conveniently available. I think Hearts takes that one.

In Round Four, the teams challenge each other. Hearts challenges Bones to create a scenario where a character called Rhonda Pizza has to utilise a prop from an audience member (a wallet!) and at some point utter the line, “I can’t think of one.” Bones challenges Hearts to create a random scene where all the dialogue is in questions. At this point, after four rounds, one team is leading by one point so don’t ask me how the scoring works.

A tragic tale of sudden redundancy emerges in Round Five’s ‘Sing About It’ bout, set in a Garden Centre. It turns out the person being dumped is not only the owner but their name is its brand: Jeremy’s Garden Centre. The scene that plays out offers a salutary commentary on youthful ignorance-cum-arrogance, the wisdom of experience, and miscarriages of workplace justice. And it all works out well in the end.

All six improvisers are at the top of their game as their earnest pursuit of meeting the challenges set by themselves, each other and/or the audience inevitably squeeze hilarity from the dramas. Despite the skills they necessarily have in common, individual distinctions emerge: Liz is wickedly inventive; Maria has a broad comedic range; Sam is a quiet purveyor of bon mots; Ben is attentive and mellow; Dianne is a demon for accents and Gab is there for everyone no matter what’s needed – in the second half she will literally put her head on the block.  

During interval the QR app offers us the opportunity to complete the joke, “What is the difference between The Fringe festival and getting a fringe?” When we come back the performers read out the top six contender and we get to choose the winner: “Nothing. Both are a source of great trauma,” offered by a veteran of the improv scene.

A round called ‘Cliff Hangers’ takes up the second act. It is director-led with two from teach team. The premise for each this night is:

  1. Two people are stuck on a train. Their luggage has gone missing, they’ve both killed someone and one of their bags has a head in it.
  2. A scene in a forest, because the director loves trees.
  3. Two pop stars on location, in New Plymouth, backstage at a music festival. .
  4. A relation story with three characters: one fear their marriage is losing its spark; his partner is desperate for fame; the owner of the café they’d ining at only cares about bees and money.

Complications build the drama to the required cliff hanger. The couple on the train swap bags. A lumberjack enters the forest. Both Lorde and Britney are desperate to find a recording studio. The fame-seeker is allergic to bees. After the first round, the audience clap-o-meter sees the forest scenario get chopped.

Next to go is the severed head train story, leaving Maria’s formidable Lorde and Liz’s fragile Britney to align on the idea of shooting their albums on the beach while credibility is achieved at the café for the bereaved ‘fear of losing the spark’ guy (Sam) falling in love with the sociopathic money-hungry Honey man (Ben) – then having to kill him.

While my partner and I warmed more to Lorde and Britney, the honey trap story won the round with Sam’s espousal of an egalitarian society based on bees. And Sam’s final line does take (ahem) line honours: “I’m a honey man now, I’m not doing any more murders for love.”

All up the vocal enthusiasm of the large crowd of improv enthusiasts attests to the quality of this format and its execution. Post show, Jen O’Sullivan has added a programme to the Locomotive web page, including this:
Amidst the disaster and stress of our ‘new normal’ (we launch during NZ’s third ever National State of Emergency) sometimes we just need some lighthearted escapism, to refresh and refill ourselves with laughter and joy and nonsense before we get back into the mahi. The Big HOO-HAA! is here for you in those moments. Stay safe, stay silly, do what you can to help others and yourselves, and thank you for coming to our show.


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