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Review: ITS Comedy Festival / Smackdown Grand Final at Giant Dwarf

By Liam Shand Egan

Improv Theatre Sydney closed out their festival run at Giant Dwarf on Saturday night to a packed audience (and one reviewer praying for no audience participation) and to the surprise of no one in the audience, it was a hilarious showcase of the talent they produce. The curators of this festival chose such a strong mix of performers for their final night and finished it with the Grand Final of their ITS Smackdown. If this was the usual caliber of what ITS produces, then sign me up.  The show began with ‘A Night in Future New York’ getting the crowd relaxed with some of the most polished and relaxed acting I have seen in ages, improvised or otherwise. The premise given - ‘electric bodega’ - was a really interesting one and the troupe were having fun on stage figuring out the logistics of a store that no one is allowed to work in. My only issues with the Future New York’s performance was they moved away from that premise too quickly and some of the later characters did bring the comedy to a crawl. Once again, from a technical standpoint, this group is amazing and I will be following up on them. If ‘A Night in Future New York’ was polished and relaxed, Snake Pit was amped up and excited. The trio of Maddie Houlbrook-Walk, Concetta Caristo and John Robles burst on stage as if they were mainlining Monster energy drink. The audience responded and you could feel that they made a positive impact on everyone. The laughter was constant and loud throughout and that carried over to anchor the rest of the evening. It must be said however, that some pieces were a little rough but this was the performance that felt the most like true Improv comedy - hilarious and chaotic. Finally, Mother Father with Bridie Connell and Tom Walker took the stage and showed the audience just how much you could pull from a single premise. The pair of actors were on stage pulling every bit of comedy from ‘Cradle’ and I was amazed by how they weaved through different stories and characters so effortlessly. This was actually the most challenging for me to critique as extremely good improv comedy can start to seem scripted. This is most likely a symptom of two performers at the top of their game who trust in each other completely. Performances like Mother Father, with their polish and expertise, make me want to try improv comedy ASAP. Finally, the ITS Smackdown Grand Final showcased the best 3 troupes of this year and honestly, they were not lying. All 3 groups were outstanding and handled every difficult premise and occasional interruption so beautifully that it’s crime Giant Dwarf didn’t have more seats. The contest was won by the Wine Mums duo who jumped out of the gate with the premise ‘my mum doesn’t love me’ and right then and there - had the audience howling. Keep an eye out for them as I hope they will take this win in stride and keep performing soon. Critiquing improv seems like a tricky thing because there is nothing to compare each performance to. Instead of a previous production or version of a story, the actors are by themselves on stage with barely a sentence to create a performance out of. I don’t think I have it in me but I am so so glad I had to the chance to see it. Improv Theatre Sydney made me want to perform again and that is one of the best metrics of success you can have for art - inspiration.

Improv Theatre Sydney is presenting their Big House showcase on December 6 at SLYFOX. Go and see what I saw and face a sore throat the next morning. A truly great night.

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All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.


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