BATS Theatre, Wellington

15/05/2012 - 19/05/2012

NZ International Comedy Festival 2012

Production Details


Welcome to the unwritten frontier, where everyone is wild at heart, and every stranger brings a story. Wellington Improvisation Troupe’s latest show seeks to evoke the Wild West, exploring character without limits and comedy where no laws apply. Playing with the darker, rougher side to the International Comedy Festival, The Last Saloon opens at the venerable BATS Theatre on 15 May at 6:30pm.

Show Director Geoff Simmons has been obsessed with Westerns from a young age. “When I was 6 I used to watch Clint Eastwood with my uncle Jim while he cleaned his shotguns,” he says. “That freaked me out more than horror movies ever have.” This show will be paying homage to Westerns, rather than lampooning them. Promising to avoid the usual parodies and cliches like rolling tumbleweed and baked beans around the campfire, anyone who is a fan of Westerns like Deadwood will love this show.

The actors find the comedy in the rich characters and foreboding atmosphere of tension that the Western genre provides. It turns out that Westerns and improv have a lot in common. “Everything is heightened because life is always on a knife-edge, which is a lot like doing improv,” Geoff says. “One wrong step at any moment and it can all blow up. Improv uses that heightened tension to get laughs, but really it can be taken in any direction”. This show will truly be a journey into uncharted, unscripted territory, and the audience is invited along for the ride.

Wellington Improvisation Troupe is Wellington’s not-for-profit, community-based improvisational theatre group. WIT performs and teaches the skills of improvisational theatre at community venues around the Wellington region.

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.

The Posse:  Christine Brooks, Geoff Simmons (Director), Anton van Helden, Nicola Hill, Nicola Pauling, Adam Williamson, Kate Wilson, and Danni Taylor

As part of the NZ International Comedy Festival 2012

Dates:  15-19 MAY @ 6:30pm
Venue:  BATS Theatre, 1 Kent Terrace
Tickets:  Adults $18, Conc. $13, Groups 6+ $14
Bookings:  04 802 4175 or online at 

For a full line up of performances, booking details & more information, visit 

Western stereotype heaven

Review by Maraea Rakuraku 16th May 2012

Take every stereotype about the Western genre, squeeze it into 55 minutes and you have The Last Saloon. The programme handed at the door (love you Bats) by a saloon wench and a howdy maam sets the scene, aided by the on-stage musician playing the guitar on entry. Excellent.

At first it seem a bit like I’m watching the head prefects in an end of School Year Production.  You know the kind, where a single mistake has it all falling apart.  But, no this is the Wellington Improvisation Troupe (WIT), the professionals at managing things falling apart as they seamlessly pull it together on stage in front of you.

After some help from the audience, the story kicks off with a bang as we are introduced to each character (whose names I can’t quite recall; they are not on the programme and they weren’t said enough during the performance) through each performer. 

We are looking at a typical Western township cast. The big-hearted whore, sheriff, cowboys, saloon bar-keep, love interest and a bad-ass who may or may not love the big-hearted whore or the love interest.   Ok, where is the sheriff? Who’s the bad-ass?  Who’s the love interest? Ok, here’s an Indian.  Still, no Sheriff.  Surely, the Indian isn’t the bad-ass?

At one stage I think, they have hit on something here maybe a live on-stage New Zealand version of A Prairie Home Companion.  In fact one of the performers is starting to look a little like Garrison Keillor (Anton Van Helden).  He’s the one who gets the most laughs from the audience.

Yet, it’s Jed (Geoff Simmons) who’s the lynchpin.  He introduces the piece and the story seems to switch up whenever he’s on stage, as it does too with Nicola Pauling’s character. But to be fair the ensemble are all able, capable and confident performers (there are no William Shatner stage-hoggers here) and better yet, they all seem like they are having a good time. 

That includes the very obvious, not-in-costume stagehand running out with various props from behind a curtain, who seems to be having as much fun as the performers are. And it’s largely because of that, you want to have a good time with them. And you do.  That’s all in spite of the uneven pace and the wondering 35 minutes in where-is-this- going? But five minutes later it’s all clear.  It’s heading up the pathway of Western stereotype heaven, which is all good.

It is quite something to pull together nine people on stage at the same time and maintain chemistry, yet they play off against each other comfortably. Perhaps a little too much at times when obvious offers are missed. But that’s nothing that can’t be fixed as they settle into the performance and the piece.

It’s the music that could really turn this production into something more if it was more closely aligned with the storytelling rather than as background accompaniment.  Nevertheless, respect to Simon Burgess (his two guitars and banjo) and the WIT crew, for acknowledging the significance music plays in setting tone and story in Westerns. 

The audience is good-natured (someone was particularly impressive at sound effects) and is involved from the outset.  The fourth wall is prodded.  Personally, I would have liked to have seen this played out a bit more, with sharper pacing; to see WIT really stretch that acting muscle and show the improvisation they can obviously bring.

The accents, the costuming, the props, the lighting all reflect the obvious time that’s gone into this.  It may not have the grit that’s promised in the programme but seriously, it’s fun. 


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