BATS Theatre, The Propeller Stage, 1 Kent Tce, Wellington

06/10/2015 - 06/10/2015

NZ Improv Festival 2015

Production Details

A night of solo stories woven with truth and heartbreak, then sprinkled with whimsy.

Sit by the fire, raise a glass, and lose yourself in our most luxurious desire for story. An evening hosted by The Unicorn.

BATS Theatre, 1 Kent Tce, Wellington 
Tuesday 6 October
$18 Full / $14 Concession / $13 Groups 6+ /
Two show pass: $30 Full / $25 Concession
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Derek Flores
Michi Flores
Jason Geary
Dan Allan
Katherine Weaver 

Theatre , Improv ,

A satisfying and diverse little adventure

Review by Lena Fransham 07th Oct 2015

This story cabaret is a place where mythological creatures tell stories based on the virtues. The virtue from which each story springs is determined in a pick-a-card ritual conducted by our host, Unicorn (Derek Flores) with random audience members.

There’s an intoxicating air of possibility when chance is introduced into a performance and this little ritual, which seems to engage the audience in a game with the Fates, has a mythological resonance that nods to the ancient lineage of the storytelling art.  

Unicorn is a flamboyant, mercurial character. Wth pianist Oli Devlin’s deftly improvised accompaniment, he eerily channels Tom Waits in his vocal delivery, but with more glamour. Lounging on a bar stool in a corner of the stage, he drinks companionably with the pianist and casually introduces us to the story cabaret. His witty rambles zoom in on particular audience members and spotlight them in a teasing but slightly menacing way, pushing their embarrassment to the edge of uncomfortable.

Eventually he zooms in on Roland to help select the first card. The chosen virtue is Gentleness. And so Unicorn, riffing off a short conversation with Roland, tells a story in which the protagonist (pointedly named Roland) goes to a beach where the landscape grows out of a series of weirdly violent metaphors; the fierce sun ‘punching through’ the azure sky, the ‘twisted knotty limbs’ of the trees constituting a ‘Gallipoli of pine’ (a phrase so pricelessly lurid that it deservedly gets more mileage later on). Roland’s love interest – Ash – appears on the beach, flicking back her long brown hair with ‘a Fibonacci sequence of water droplets’. Love at first sight! But alas, she has another lover! Cue Roland’s ‘paralysing torments’. 

Unicorn seems to grab his purple prose out of the air, with varying effectiveness, but the unexpectedness of the results are the charm of them. Half the time even he is surprised at what comes out of his mouth.  If his turn of phrase were an outfit, Lady Gaga would be wearing it. I’m wondering – amid all the violent metaphors, the screaming orgasms, and the bizarre vengeance of the jealous Roland – where the gentleness comes in. But Unicorn, despite the apparent randomness of his plot decisions, suddenly ties it together quite poignantly, and the virtue of gentleness triumphs.

The second virtue is Courage. Unicorn introduces us to the second storyteller, Griffin (Dan Allen) who addresses us from atop his red boxes centre stage. Griffin assumes a Mediterranean accent and tells us of a little girl, Clarice, from Athens, whose people are at war with Sparta. She has great courage, Griffin relates, but her family forbids her to go to war because she is a little girl. So she decides to stop the war in another way, and goes on a quest to Syria to ask the Griffin for knowledge. Unicorn’s cheeky interjections spark off a rolling repartee between the two actors which adds a lovely spontaneity to the story. 

While he seems at times unconvinced by his own character, there’s a casual impulsive air about Griffin, as if he’s a child asking us to play his imaginary game. He invites audience member Thomas to come onstage and be the prow of the boat that Clarice paddles to Syria. (Unicorn provides authentic sea spray by blowing little drops of white wine at Thomas). Then Griffin gets Thomas (who’s tall) to be the mountain Clarice climbs and then the cave she goes through (Unicorn provides echoes with his wine glass).

Props to Thomas for obliging these whims with such flair! When Clarice finally meets Griffin, there is a sort of Wizard of Oz ending – ‘you had what you needed inside you all along’ –  observing, I guess, the mythological pattern of both stories, but perhaps a little disappointing for originality’s sake. 

The third virtue is Honesty. And so we meet the Troll sisters (Michi Flores and Katherine Weaver). They shuffle out, hunch-shouldered, to tell their story in a snorting wheedling dialogue, echoing each other’s ‘yeeeahs’, improvising on each other’s cues until quite a believable picture emerges. ‘Remember that time our mum was honest?’ (Ghastly grins.) ‘Oh yeeeah,’ (oink) ‘yeeeah.’

Their conversation presents a family portrait with intimations of inbreeding and degeneracy, and their uninhibited disclosures about their parents’ issues go to some, er, icky places. Their tale is almost believable and weirdly human, because there is clearly a rich backstory for these sisters with which the actors are already intimate. The improv is a matter of responding to the demands of the moment out of this backstory.

Finally, the Minotaur (Jason Geary) emerges grandly in his ironic little horned bowler hat. Pondering the virtue of Respect, he begins a moody reminiscence that again highlights the fullness of the character funding the improvisation. A minimal plot draws on mythological elements such as the maze but the deeply empathic persona of the bullish man, remembering his great passion for a woman he met in a bar (gloomy red lights evoke noir atmosphere) and the simple physicality with which the character manifests himself, are the magic of the story.

The momentousness of the meeting is conveyed powerfully by Geary’s repeated miming of a gigantic heart beating inside his bull’s chest, as the woman walks fatefully toward him. “She was fire,” he remembers. “Fire, from her toes to her red hair.” A wealth of character is portrayed in this sequence. His story incorporates a little surprise – the woman turns out to be Pandora, and she steals his elixir of life – and a kind of melancholy gravitas in its resolution, augmented by some adroit lighting (Darryn Woods). 

This has been a satisfying and diverse little adventure in mytho-cabaret land. Unicorn farewells us with a rascally sparkle in his eye.


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