BATS Theatre, Wellington

16/10/2019 - 17/10/2019

NZ Improv Festival 2019

Production Details

“I just came here for a beer. What’s going on?” — Unsuspecting audience member

A motley crew of improvisors invade BATS’ Lumen Bar for an adventurous interlude of adversity, triumph, and copious shenanigans. Based on that traditional British pub entertainment, the mummer’s play. At least what we remember of it. We might be a bit wrong.

Free! Be in Lumen Bar after the 6:30pm and 7pm shows to catch the action.

BATS Theatre, Lumen Bar, 1 Kent Terrace, Wellington,
Wednesday, October 16, 2019 – 7:30pm
Thursday, October 17, 2019 – 8:30pm 

Theatre , Improv ,

BATS Bar foyer fun / Managed with casual aplomb

Review by Brendan ‘Monty’ West 17th Oct 2019

“You were revived with a beverage / But I am slain by internal hemorrhage!”

To fit improvisation to a peculiar space is in itself a paradox; on one hand, there is no time to work out optimum viewing angles and audience arrangement, but on the other, the show can evolve around however the space manifests on the night. 

This is foremost in my mind as I settle into the Lumen Bar at BATS Theatre, along with a smattering of other audience members. In chaotic fashion, we have formed a ramshackle traverse stage, clustered on either side of the only clear area. Some audience members of the preceding show in the Improv Festival scuttle down the stairs and join the crowd, unsure of what’s happening. Everything seems set, street-theatre-esque vibes abound. There’s very little in the description of the show – the most concrete detail is that this will be based on a ‘Mummers’ Play’ in the English folk tradition.

True to form, the three cast arrive led by a drummer (Lyndon Hood) in pseudo-historic costumes. The procession navigates the stairs with hearty semi-musical shouts and rhythm, managing to convey both a taste of the well-meaning ‘amateur’ actors they’re pretending to be, and stoking up audience enthusiasm with bawdy interaction. Indeed, it becomes apparent that the constant asides and conspiracies are the actual meat of the show, with the story being the vehicle to carry it.

The Drummer, revealing himself to be the master of ceremonies, kicks off the proceedings and asks for a mundane profession, thus the Plumber is born (Ryan Goodwin) as the protagonist. This first section is a tad muddy with energy and attention having to be flung around the room, but the show quickly finds its feet with the creation of the Builder (Rik Brown), who has mastered the art of declaring something, then instantly undercutting by scooting over to the nearest audience member and footnoting what he is saying. The juggling of these two personas is relaxed and efficient.

Throughout all of this, the players have been speaking in rhyme. At first this is a tad tortured, and presses on my dislike for improvisers to ‘play the failure’, or highlight the fact they are making it up. But soon enough, the couplets tighten, and this starts to feel like the intentional meta-characters they are playing – reminiscent of Shakespeare’s Rude Mechanicals, albeit not so rural.

Also, the voices start to find their ranges, filling the space and cutting through the murmur of background noise just in time for the players to start exchanging blows with their foam weaponry, urged on by the crowd and gleefully milking every moment. Despite clubbing the Builder in the head, the Plumber lays slain, the Builder accepting boos (and rogue cheers). The first half is complete, the players ascending the stairs to give another show a change to disgorge its own audience. 

The second half is decidedly different in tone and focus – with the crowd now bolstered by the afore-mentioned new arrivals, the players quickly establish their presence and bring us all up to speed. A fourth member has joined, and the Drummer implores the audience to give him a familial tie so that he might “unkill” the Plumber. Someone suggests ‘Uncle’, a pun that won’t register immediately but causes an eruption further down the line. This new Uncle (Jonathan Briden) makes his presence known with a sonorous voice and swishing coat, clearly a veteran of stagecraft.

With an offered glass of beer, he attempts to resurrect the Builder. Pouring liquid into a prone person’s mouth is no mean feat, but they manage it without any choking. The final fight begins with the Uncle providing Matador-like distraction. In the end, however, the show title proves true, and the Builder succumbs to prior concussion: “You were revived with a beverage / But I am slain by internal hemorrhage!”

All things considered; this show is exactly what it sets out to be. Despite a slightly anemic beginning, all of the improvisers on show are veterans and showcase this in the ease with which they interact with the audience, listen to each other and cleanly execute offers. The simplicity of the premise lends itself well to a distracted environment, although I dread to think how it would be managed with many more audience members. This is intended to be the fun stuff in the foyer, which it manages with casual aplomb. 


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