Theatresports – All Stars
TheatreSports Allstars is a staple of the Sydney Comedy Festival program. This is a very accessible 90-minute event for audiences of all ages in need of a mid-afternoon laugh. The (obviously) successful schools and other educational engagement programs offered by Impro Australia (The Home of TheatreSports TM) means there is no shortage of intergenerational audiences and players. This event showcases the very best of local TheatreSports legends. Amongst the players were schools’ champions Ryan Atkins, and Amy Tustian who admirably held their own against veterans such as Daniel Cordeaux and Jioji Ravulo, to name but two. Hosted by the inimitable Adam Spencer and Josie Riley – both impressive improvisors. Adam Spencer and Lyn Pierce (the doyen of Australian TheatreSports) did a terrific interview on the ABC radio Stage Show. It was part homage to the late Keith Johnstone (father of TheatreSports) and part spruik for this event. I was primed!
The event began with a round of quick fire 2-minute games which warmed up both the audience and players. There was a lot of explanation of each game and although we were promised more audience interaction there was very little overall. All teams, topics, games, and challenges were (mostly) pre-organised on Josie’s clipboard. One notable exception was a scene where the text messages from an audience member’s phone became the text to a scene onboard the Titanic (players included Lynette Voller and Daniel Cordeaux). Layered and hilarious, as the audience member sat onstage with the players, reacting from her own personal context from which the text messages were exchanged.
Highlights of the event included a sensational ballad on the subject of Tinder created by trio Kate Wilkins, John Knowles and Bridie Connell with Gep Blake as improvising musical maestro; Jane Watt’s bring-the-house-down ending to Cinderella in a Wild West genre; David Callan and Monique Dykstra ticking off a bucket list in a scene of Alphabet Conversation; David Callan reincorporating the bucket list as he appeared in subsequent scenes; the aforementioned John Knowles in a small upturned rostra demonstrating the scale of his Newtown digs; and a special mention to Ewan Campbell who also reincorporated and early offer across his other appearances. And of course, playing TheatreSports isn’t all about who stands out. Knowing when to leave your teammates to it is all part of the art just as knowing when to jump in with a scene-saving (or, should I say, advancing) offer. This cast know their stuff. But more critically, most scenes were played at a strident pitch with some very average stagecraft. High energy without detail gets dull very quickly.
Essentially this is a kind of demonstration event with high achieving players demonstrating skill and dexterity. This would have made sense of them playing “games”. I was expecting long form open improvisations after the warmup round. Perhaps I thought an Allstars event would take us outside the comfort of known structures and outcomes. A place where – along with comedy – players might explore hot topics of the day; not fear silence and stillness; embrace the political and vulnerability of the human condition. It all felt very safe and perhaps not as sophisticated as this incredible, centuries old artform could be even if - for the purposes of a comedy festival – your mission is to make us laugh.