Double Dipping: Queen & Friend and The Mechanical
Produced by: New Zealand Improv Festival
BATS Theatre, 11th Oct 2023
Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus
Two shows for the price of one. What could be better this New Zealand Improv Festival? With just 30 minutes each, Queen & Friend and The Mechanical both manage to pull off a fully formed narrative with multiple characters based on suggestions from an excitable audience.
Using the Slido app, Queen & Friend (Imogen Behan-Willett and Mark Grimes), assisted by tech master Tristram Domican, use the audience’s selection of an inspiring location as their starting point. It’s Gore, South Island. Using clear mime skills, they quickly establish that we’re in Gore’s lone, nameless pub with its only two regular customers. Soon a third character, that of the publican, is introduced. Then the audience gets to pick whose story we follow next, choose-your-own-adventure style. The publican is the popular favourite and we’re off home to his wife, endless schnitzel-making, career angst, and emotionally stunted son.
Creating three characters per scene gives Queen & Friend its distinctiveness. Behan-Willett and Grimes deftly flit between their roles using simple physical moves that are easy to follow and fun to watch, alongside a speedily developed and entertaining storyline.
Next up is The Mechanical (Rik Brown), otherwise known as Tom Snout, the one performer left after his A Midsummer Night’s Dream play-within-a-play castmates have deserted. It soon becomes clear that Brown’s improv skills are a cut above the usual when he invites the audience to give him eight mostly random words that he will weave into a story. What follows – The Tale of the Gross Plumber – is a masterpiece of on-the-spot Shakespearean cleverness of which the Bard himself would have been proud. Weaving in multiple characters and three storylines (the fixing of a leak in the castle kitchen, a homosexual near-encounter on a snow slope, and an onion addiction), Brown uses existentialist mock-Elizabethan language and brilliant physical theatre throughout to take us on a complex and well-rounded story arc. As always with improv, I’m in awe of his instant creativity.