The Improvisors are Wellington’s premiere improvisation troupe who, throughout the ages, have had a regular Sunday night spot at Circa Theatre. This is their second season of 2006 (they first played in the Comedy Festival and over winter) and is delivered to the audience in an ‘Idol’ format. Their troop of sixteen performers are battling it out over seven Sunday nights to see who will be crowned Improv Idle. On each night eight players perform a series of Theatre Sports games and the audience who are given score cards, and two judges (scoring the more technical aspects of the performance), get to judge their performance. After each round the audience gets to vote off the least liked performer of the three lowest scoring contestants.
Theatre Sports fits amazingly well into the ‘Idol’ format. It gives the night a tight structure that I often find to be lacking in performance of this sort. It also involves the audience on a higher level than just screaming out random challenges to the performers (my girlfriend Megan had to force me to calm down with a rather condescending, “you have some really good ideas but every time you say anything the man in front of us has to cover his ears”) as it engages those members of the audience who may be less vocal or simply less extroverted. It also forces the performers to work for it individually, something that team games (which is the usual format) just don’t seem to do. The down side of this is the possibility of performers trying to steal the limelight to gain the audience’s favour, however this factor was relatively absent from Sunday night’s performance.
The quality of the performances was, on the whole, extremely high. Better than any of the Improvisors’ other work I have seen to date. The scenes and performers were intelligent and funny, and there was only a sprinkling of smut over the performance. This worked as a sort of seasoning or flavour enhancer, barely recognisable as an individual ingredient but as part of the whole working selflessly to heighten each performance. And it was clever – and Salient likes nothing better than clever smut.
After six rounds, the top five players and a wildcard performer which the audiences can vote for on The Improvisors website – www.theimporvisors. co.nz) will battle it out for the coveted title on November 5 (Guy Fawkes night). Currently Anna Kennedy (that girl off Target), who has placed second in the first two shows, is topping the leader board. She performed admirably in the suicide round where each week a performer must perform completely alone. Her performance took the non-traditional route by offering a tenderly dramatic short scene rather than attempt ‘funny’. Greg Ellis won the evening and stole the show in a death match against Kennedy.
Like other ‘Idol’ shows Improv Idle also offers cinematic titbits on the website of the winning and losing players sharing their feelings about their performances. Unfortunately, my computer is far to slow to show these so I have know way of telling whether they heighten the performance or are simply try-hard and taking a good idea a little bit too far. Regardless of this, Improv Idle is a great theatre sports show in a wonderful format. And it only costs $13 for students, so it is pretty good value as well.
Performed by The Improvisors
Circa Theatre 24 September – 5 November