The Big HOO-HAA! Melbourne

The Big HOO-HAA! Melbourne
By Candice D’Arcy, Dan Debut, Mark Gambino, Caitlin McNaughton, Anna Renzenbrink, Elly Squire – with MC Brianna Williams. Melbourne International Comedy Festival. Melbourne Town Hall, Backstage Room. 30 March – 21 April 2018

Live wire MC Brianna Williams (a last-minute replacement, but you’d never know) lights up the pocket size stage with her grin, her spiel and her fast interactions with a full house audience.  Some guy in the audience obligingly supplies what will be a running gag for the show: he nominates his cousin Georgia as a favourite relative in such a way that he then has to back pedal fast: he doesn’t want to root her, she’s just hot… Brianna keeps him on the hook for the rest of the show.  Tonight’s cast – a disparate bunch - run on and jostle in the tiny space.  Audience participation is requested and we oblige.  We’re going to vote for one or other of the two teams, The Hearts (red T-shirts) and The Bones (black T-shirts), as they play a series of games.  Brianna sets the rules and the audience throws up suggestions for the key words that’ll kick each one off.

One of the great pleasures of an improv show is the tension as we wait to see if these clever people on stage will meet the next challenge thrown at them – such as, for instance, ‘Create a musical called… ‘ And an audience member yells out, ‘Dinosaur!’  Can they do it?  Can they, in seconds, create a musical called ‘Dinosaur’?  Yes!  Well, sort of.  Relief and admiration from us when they do meet the challenge.  Or there’s the genre game.  The audience supplies about six movie genres and then our improvisers have to act out a story, changing genre every time Brianna blows her whistle.  And, yes, they do that too.

Sometimes we groan, but mostly we laugh and applaud.  It’s fun.  It’s like party games without the stress of having to play ourselves.

But how do you assess an improv show that was different last night and will be different again tomorrow night?  Only by the ability of the improvisers to improvise.  This team of six have that ability: they’re quick, they throw in pop culture references, they find impossible rhymes and they collaborate on the spot and support each other.  String bean Dan Debut, with his big smile, that gets even bigger with each outrageous pun, is maybe the most ingenious, but Candice D’Arcy’s deadpan really grows on us.  (She has her own show elsewhere in the Festival.)  Elly Squire projects sweetness and light that can turn to malice and evil with startling speed.  These are practiced performers, but the adrenalin is pumping.  Throughout Caleb Garfinkel makes a big contribution: he’s the super-fast on-the-spot musical collaborator-on-the-run.  He improvises the music, sometimes catching up with the direction the actors are going, other times making a musical suggestion that sends them in the right direction.

This improv show is pitched just right for a good-time, feel-good hour or so.

Michael Brindley

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