Kookaburra Café, Given Terrace, Paddington
I have to begin with a question. If this show is called Gorilla Theatre, what was the significance of the kangaroo hops accompanied by whooping corroboree noises from the cast? If it was meant to be an ape impersonation, it didn’t really work.
Perhaps it could have been improved with even more monkey business, more jest as well as zest. As it was, the performance has a rather serious, well-meaning feel that will hopefully loosen up after first-night.
Director and front-man Brad Daniels explains the format the five actors each have five minutes to improvise segments, though the actual timing seems something of a mystery, given that they work in teams. As audience, we become too aware of the time element, rather than being so caught up in the drama that we forget it. It must be our game as well as the actors’ if it’s going to absorb us completely.
After each segment the audience judges the actors’ success or otherwise by yelling “banana” (thumbs up) or “forfeit” (thumbs down). If it’s thumbs down, losers take a slip of paper from a hat which orders them to “phone your Mum and explain your failure” or “perform a ballet version of the story” or “perform the events in fast-forward.” A banana pic sticker is slapped onto winners’ T-shirts and counted up at the end of the night to proclaim who wins the prize that is, the winner gets to keep a stuffed toy ape until next week’s performance. It’s really only at the end of the night about 90 minutes later that we discover the relevance of the title. This random vote-counting offered some surprises at the end, because I’m sure the audience laughed more often for some of the so-called losers.
This is how it works. The players Brad, Colin, Ash, Jenny and Louise take it in turns to direct a segment.
“You work at Centrelink. You must speak with clients in Shakespearean style.”
Or: “Give me the first word that pops into your head,” the audience is directed.
So we are treated to a song about “Wanna play monopoly?” “No, I don’t wanna play monopoly or boggle or star wars or trivial pursuit with you.”
“Give me a word.”
So Colin sings an improvised song about croquet in a pleasant well-projected voice.
The challenge is for actors to respond on the spot, and as audience input will vary each night, no two shows can be the same. Sometimes, though, there was a little pre-arranged nudging into possibly practiced directions.
“Give me a name,” we’re asked. “Michael,” we reply. “No,” decides the director, “let’s have Mary.”
So much for improv! The cast launches into a “Do run run” song, in ten-green-bottles style, where each actor must sing a line that rhymes with Mary, or else drop out of the game. (The name Michael was allowed into the third verse, however.)
Given that it was their first night, that it’s amateur theatre, and that some actors seem more experienced than others, the evening worked quite well. Some of the most successful segments involved singing, accompanied by sympathetic strummings from guitarist David Pechey. But they could consider more cohesive costuming to create a sense of unity. Why, for example, did only some of the cast some wear matching brown T-shirts?
With its simple and inviting format, the theatre sports concept works reasonably well for a relaxed night out, especially for those who like involvement. Yet it could be improved with more sense of inviting the audience into the actors’ space, of presenting a show rather than a performance. The actors would involve people more if they worked in the round even sitting at a table close to the front, my view was often blocked, while the lighting meant that actors tended to be blinded by the spotlight rather than caught in it.
The show could also be improved with some thought to create powerful, memorable first and last impressions. Skippy hopping onto the small stage area at least drummed up some energy, but the rather limp “That’s the end of the show” hardly sent people out wanting more, especially as it was preceded by a birthday song which was one of the least convincing. Yet the singer was pronounced the winner.
As theatre restaurants go, the canvas-covered space with trestle tables is basic, but was a useful venue for tight budget fledgling performers.
Overall, it was a brave attempt, with some imaginative moments. A little more polish could have improved it, but how do you polish improvisation? And more positive attempts to engage the audience would have lifted the performance. But at $10 a ticket with pizza ranging from $10-$18 it’s not a bad deal. Basic spirits cost $4.50 a glass, beer and wines are $4.
Playing Thursday nights at 7.30pm, for as long as the enthusiasm lasts.
Duration: About 90 minutes with a 15 minute interval.