The Young and the Witless IV

Fringe Bar, Cnr Cuba & Vivian, Wellington

02/06/2010 - 25/08/2010

Production Details

Lust… Betrayal… Family…

Wellington’s only improvised soap opera returns!

Fresh from knock out seasons of Micetro, Improv Divas, and Gods & Heroes, the Wellington Improv Troupe is back with another titillating season of intrigue, secrets and unrequited lust!

Join the Wakefields, NZ’s #2 retail family as they battle tough economic times, off shore manufacturing, and each other for control of the legacy of great granddad Wakefield.

Starting Wednesday June 2 at Wellington’s home for comedy, The Fringe Bar at 8pm.

Wednesdays only
June 2 to August 25, 2010 at 8:00pm 
1hr 30mins
The Fringe Bar, Cnr Vivian and Cuba Sts, Wellington

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Tickets at the door only $10.


Unpredictable soap produces amusing absurdism

Review by Phoebe Smith 20th Jul 2010

WIT’s season of improvised soap opera, The Young and the Witless IV, is going strong at the Fringe Bar on Wednesday nights. It attracts large and exuberant houses who are not disappointed as the improvisers deliver a compelling combination of narrative twists, character based gags and sardonic breakings of the fourth wall.

The pilot episode of The Young and the Witless saw a slightly strained style of improvisation as the performers attempted to kickstart the show’s storylines and characters. Now, two thirds of the way through their season, the actors have settled into their roles and the format of their show, and are delivering relaxed performances that allow the audience the pleasure of laughing both at and with them.

Especially pleasing are the moments when actors intentionally put each other in awkward situations: forcing improvised songs, dances and foreign languages. (Karen Anslow and Paul Sullivan’s musical number was a particular delight last Wednesday night.) We see seasoned improvisers taking great pleasure in making each other squirm!

What is commendable is the strength of the narrative line running under and through these gags. The Wakefield family are, as to be expected, in turmoil, dealing with murder, prison-escapes, lesbian love affairs and of course, the ever-shady family business. They open the show with a brief character-by-character breakdown, which means that if one has the misfortune to miss an episode, one can be brought up to speed and enjoy the soap opera on a show-by-show basis.

Anyone who enjoys Twin Peaks will appreciate the style of The Young and the Witless IV. The unfortunate factor in most televised soaps is the utter predictability of the outcome of each plotline. Here, of course, no one has the least idea what will happen next (least of all the actors) leading to some highly amusing absurdist storylines. And Christine Brooks’ Emily Wakefield really could have stepped out of David Lynch’s notebook.

The use of lighting and sound is subtle and well-timed. The lights frequently come down at the ideal moment, preventing the actors from taking a scene too far and providing a television-like quality. Add to the mix the ever-flowing Fringe Bar and The Young and the Witless IV is a highly enjoyable night out. I recommend everyone catches what’s left of it.


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Format and team-work changes needed to make this work

Review by Phoebe Smith 03rd Jun 2010

Wellington Improv Troupe (WIT) continually present exciting and diverse improvisation and they have a fierce schedule for 2010. Hot on the heels of their multiple shows in the comedy fest, they bring us The Young and the Witless IV, a serialised, improvised, weekly soap opera.

WIT’s fourth season of The Young and the Witless advertises itself as a “compelling, must see season of spontaneous scandal and intrigue.” It is therefore disappointing that opening night – or the Pilot episode – lacks drama, plot, cohesion or risky improvisation.

One of Improvisation’s appeals and benefits is the interactive nature of the performers’ relationship with the audience. We make some oh-so-hilariously-random offers and the dumbfounded actors gulp and make them work. Not only does this make the audience feel involved and confirm that what they are seeing is improvised, but it creates a warm, forgiving atmosphere. When the actors fail, we love them for trying.

It is unfortunate then that on opening night there is no opportunity for audience participation. There’s plenty of potential for it.

Two performers, Simon Smith and Geoff Simmons, ‘direct’ the action by suggesting scenes via a microphone. This would be much more compelling if the suggestions came from the audience (perhaps they could even be gathered beforehand in an ‘ad break’ so as not to disrupt the action).

A device of this nature would help to dispel the pervasive feeling that much of what we are seeing is only half-improvised. Not only do the audience want the safety net removed, but also these experienced improvisers are gagging for a good old-fashioned risky ask-for to slip them some inspiration.  

A pilot episode is traditionally difficult, largely because in an episode of a soap opera we normally have a three storyline structure, one rising, one at mid-point and one falling. It is a hard task to start all of these storylines from scratch – particularly when scriptless.

While performer Christine Brooks makes many admirable attempts to create some plot lines, the improvisers around her who keep retreating to safe ground or killing the plot with a one-serve gag continually foil her. Also, musician Robbie Ellis’ sound levels are too high, often distracting audience and performers, and drowning out potential glimpses into plot-driven sentences.

The concept of this show is exciting and with only minimal adjustments the follow through could be extremely effective. Simon Smith’s comic timing as Feather Featherston is impeccable, Paul Sullivan’s stock European is a crowd-pleaser and the potential for some Twin Peaks style absurdity and mystery is tangible in Brook’s businesswoman cum mother.

Many of the ingredients – including experienced and usually strong performers – are present. I sincerely hope that the few necessary formatting changes are made so that the rest of The Young and the Witless IV’s season will indeed provide spontaneous scandal and intrigue.
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