Celebrating spontaneous storytelling

Theatresports Grand Championship (Impromafia)

Brisbane Powerhouse, Powerhouse Theatre

May 29

Theatre sports is a fast paced, action packed, competitive team-based theatre competition which combines wit, humour and performance skill. If you have seen improvisational comedy television shows like “Whose Line is It Anyway” you may think you know how it looks. If you have been lucky enough to experience the competition on stage, you know how much better it is to see performers making up scenes and games on the spot before your eyes (and at your suggestion) in a fun-filled night of spontaneous, never-to-be-repeated hilarity.

Featuring at the culmination of the Brisbane Comedy Festival, the one-show-only event that is Impromafia’s “Theatresports Grand Championships” sees the very best of Brisbane’s talent take on the cream of the interstate improv challenge crop in a celebration of quick wits. The show’s later Sunday timeslot means there are some loose suggestions from audience members united in their rambunctiousness, which only adds to the fun that is theatre sports – no script, only the spontaneous brilliance of its impromptu performers at the mercy at audience’s ‘should have said’ (for example) shoutouts to reconsider character statements.

The Queensland crew of humble hometown hosts (Carla Haynes, Luke Rimmelzwaan, Jaz Robertson and Wade Robinson) and Team Southerners (from Melbourne, Sydney, and New Zealand, Brendon Bennetts, Emma Brittenden, Bridie Connell, Jason Geary and David Massingham) are all incredibly talented, with clear talents for improvisation, imagination, characterisation and teamwork. Not only are they able to find the humour in anything at a moment’s notice, but they show the cleverness to remember scenes such as when an almost-minute-long scene is then replayed in 30 seconds and finally in a frantic seven second reduction. And then there are the call-backs that feature throughout the show, in this instance to Coolangatta and relationship retreats to France. Queensland also features as a recurring theme, not just in the home-grown humourists’ attire, but location and alike suggestions for skits, cresendoing in a quintessential Queensland drama, ‘The Miner’.

Each moment is unscripted, unfiltered, and unpredictable…. apart from when a scene unfolds around one character reading script lines for Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godo”, done so well that we quickly forget that this is even the case. Audience members even get in on the act, in a way, such as in a film noire retell of a front row couple’s Cavill Ave nightclub meeting many decades ago. There is certain something for everyone when the teams take to the Powerhouse main stage. With an improvised opera testament to morning coffee and a skit enlivened by audience members demanding that characters ‘sing about it’ at pivotal times (in this instance giving us a very unique Australian Kurt Cobain, Clean up Australia tribute, ‘90s style), there is even some musical moments, realised by Kris Anderson who similarly improvs his accompaniment according to the needs of each scene. And without disrupting from momentum, explanation is given to the setup of games, for those unfamiliar with format, by hosts Siobhan Finniss and Ryan Goodwin. as well as the teams themselves, which only enhances audience enthusiasm to engage with their set-ups.

Boo-ing, however, is reserved only for the judges, Leica Baker, Roger Beams and Alexander Simpkins, for while fierce battle for improv supremacy on-stage occupies most of our attention, the night’s judges play their part too, including in banter with audience members disapproving of their allocations. This year, it is Team Southerners who come up on top in the battle for improv supremacy, not that it really matters, for it is audience members who are the real winners, leaving abuzz thanks to their experience of the best of the best from Brisbane and beyond and the very random eventualities of their spontaneous storytelling – from a gothic horror story, complete with Banjo soundtrack to step-sibling breakups with strange strings attached.

All day comedy antics

All Day Breakfast With Sophie And Thien

Brisbane Powerhouse, Rooftop Terrace

May 21 – 22

Everyone is welcome at all day breakfast. This is the mantra at core of the comedy cabaret show “All Day Breakfast With Sophie And Thien”. Food is better with friends, its performers, accomplished songwriters, musicians and performers Sophie Banister and Thien Pham (hosts of the monthly variety night, Brisbaret) remind us… and so is this show, full, as it is, of audience engagement and fun. While it may regard itself as a slapped together menu of random options, the Brisbane Comedy Festival show is not as haphazard as it might have its audience believe. Its songs and bits and all breaky-themed, but there is also the loose through-line of Sophie’s quest for the perfect poached egg.

If the best nutrients come from laughter, then audience members are well fed throughout the show’s 60-minute duration. Its all sorts of silliness includes a poached egg themed piece of performance art that, while very funny, slows things down by its setup and doesn’t necessarily require revisit. Every number is hugely energetic, especially its topical tribute to live-laugh-lovers, which sees audience members uniting to become the collective personal trainer to a pedometer-clad volunteer. And with Adelaide Festival segment results as motivation, there is huge investment in the competition.)

Audience participation comes courtesy of cue cards and collective games, like Substitute (of Spicks and Specks fame), which sees everyone attempting to guess the breakfast themed songs through the duo’s recitation of substitute words read from a cookbook text, however, the small stage seems a little crowded when it becomes the site of an egg and spoon competition with a difference, as part of the show’s Breakfast Olympics.

Things start strongly when, as teenagers, the duo shares an angsty song directed to the audience member mum ruining their lives due to her social media oversharing, however, momentum lags a little mid-way through as things get a political in a ‘Freedom’ number reminder of its safe space, and also Sophie’s musical explanation of her so many real emotions.

The two musical comics certainly work well together… like eggs and toast. Banister is infectiously effervescent and Pham is very funny, especially in his throwaway lines, in addition to his early upbeat and jaunty song about mortifyingly inappropriate snapchat posting. “All Day Breakfast With Sophie And Thien” is certainly a charming, feel-good show, down even to its optimistic reminder that its ok to feel like the world’s a bit much and to live for the small things… like breakfast at the end of the day.

Ancient history hilarity

Greece Lightning

Brisbane Powerhouse, Underground Theatre

May 10 – 15

Oddball Garry Starr’s “Greece Lightning” is a perfect festival show, full of crazy, chaotic comedy to leave its audience abuzz long after its experience. After a tongue-in-cheek “Grease” pre-show soundtrack, the Brisbane Comedy Festival work begins with explanation of Starr’s intent to boost tourism to save his Hellenic homeland from economic ruin. And, as he starts the share of props to audience stakeholders for feature in later scenes, so beings the riotous reminder of the main players of Ancient Greece, only not as we have ever before imagined them.  

“An overzealous idiot attempts to perform all of Greek Mythology in less than 60 minutes”…  it’s a proven formula that is, in and of itself, packed with comic opportunities as Damien Warren-Smith (aka Garry Starr) rushes us through a list of the many, varied Greek gods of Ancient mythology. Clowning about the stage, the personable performer engages and includes the audience from the outset, which establishes a collectivism that only enhances experience of this difficult-to-describe show. From jelly snakes to boxing gloves, inventive use of props only adds to the humour, as does his range (and eventual lack-thereof) costuming from his lightning bolt nipples to giant-eyed cyclops imagining and later ‘Under The Sea’ Poseidon-inspired mermaid presentation.

As it promises, “never before has Medusa been looser, Achilles more sillies, or Uranus so heinous”, and after Starr’s climate change themed number, you will also never listen to John Williamson’s ‘Rip Rip Wood Chip’ the same away again. While scenes may be random, they are underpinned by some clever structures. A German cinematic interpretation of the Trojan war contrasts its violent subject matter with light-hearted lyrics about its ‘killies’, the destructive story of Cronus is given a cherry Brady Bunch make-over and, with audience volunteer assistance, a masked theatre Greek chorus (of sorts) gives us a unique Zorba’s dance. And then there is his very M-rated ‘The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’ presentation of Oedipus as the OG mother-f’er.

There is never a dull moment in the anarchic energy and physical comedy of its creativity, meaning the show’s hour long duration flies by. Its erratic, increasing absurdity is certainly a lot, however, what elevates it beyond the comedy of its chaos is its craftedness. As Starr, Warren-Smith’s performance if full of subtleties of side looks and one finger movements. Its script too, is peppered with malapropisms, meaning that no comic opportunity is missed.

“Greece Lightning” is unique, witty and very funny show. Far from taking its too seriously, the one-man, many-god showcase of comedy, features flying fruit, water guns and full frontal nudity. A knowledge of Greek mythology is not a perquisite, but it will certainly enhance your experience, especially of its subtleties… as will familiarity with Sooty style puppetry. Do yourself a favour to find out why.

Cringe binge cheer

The Wynter of Our Disco Tent (Funny Mummies)

Brisbane Powerhouse, The Studio

April 29 – May 1

As Box Jelly Theatre Company’s “All Fired Up” recently reminded us, there is a powerful nostalgia that comes with any trip back to the ‘80s era of big hair, over-the-top fashion and iconic music. “The Wynter of Our Disco Tent”, appearing as part of the Brisbane Comedy Festival, continues in this tradition, with a trip back in time from the personal perspective of Jenny and Angeline Wynter.

Sisters by birth, but BFFs by choice, the duo is doing it for themselves in this energetic ‘80s inspired musical comedy romp. Preshow songs of the Martika and Tiffany type set the scene for the many children of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s in the audience. It’s a wash of hypercolour as the sisters take the stage in the ‘80’s glamour of retro neon tracksuits and high hair. After a slowish start during which the show’s concept, origins and through-line are established, we are taken back to two young girls with a passion for ‘80s pop music and big dreams of becoming pop stars, spending hours perfecting dance routines and pretending to be singers.

The all-too identifiable reality of growing up in fair, but far-from-awesome Toowoomba is shaped through share of diary entries which capture teenage hyperbole of love luv, hate and the unfairness of life, but also serve as reminder of times of 100% Hits tapes, radio requests and desire for ear-piercing. Original retro-flavoured tunes accompany the desperate dreams of Jenny’s teenage self as she becomes guilty as a girl can be of love in the first degree. The songs, inspired by real-life teenage diary entries and true tales of adolescent heartbreak are clever enough, but it’s their familiar tunes that most enliven the audience. There is a lot going on, with, also, a game-show within the show and the energy rarely wanes as the duo bounce us through the show’s physical shenanigans. And while it might be a bit rough around the edges, the buoyant crowd just can’t get enough, of the “Beverly Hills 90210” and Scott and Charlene re-enactments et al.

As a binge on ‘80s cringe, “The Wynter of Our Disco Tent” is far from subtle, perfect for anybody who similarly wanted to marry Luke Perry. There is, however, also some layering beyond the obvious, cheery froth and bubble veneer of its concept. Through the retrospective lens of now 40-year-old experience, pop culture movie lessons morph into tongue-in-cheek relationship tips and an overall theme of empowerment is captured in its message about making your own disco balls. As Jenny and Angie remind us, big dreams last forever and sometimes you just have to create your own “Dirty Dancing” moments, because like Kylie said, it’s never too late.

Axe queens acknowledged

Girl & Guitar

Brisbane Powerhouse

March 24

It is an all too rare thing to see a girl and guitar taking centre stage, but when she does, you’re going to listen. And listen we do as Queensland Cabaret Festival’s “Girl & Guitar” blazes its way through a tribute to axe queens of the ages. Joined onstage by a mighty band, Kristy Apps, Pandora Karavan, Sarah Stockholm, Jackie Marshall, Georgie Nielsen and Megan Sarmardin spend 90 minutes taking their turn to pay homage to the female guitarists and vocalists who’ve blazed the trail and inspired new generations of artists, and the result is simply sensational, in its catalogue of songs, but also in and of itself.

The Powerhouse theatre is bathed in lush lighting appropriate to the varied sentiments of songs that range from the angsty to the sometimes surprisingly poignant. After a rebellious blast of ‘Cherry Bomb’ and electric Suzie Q sounds from Sarmardin, an early highlight comes in ‘rhinestone cowperson’ Karavan’s raw and real, acoustic but still impressively dramatic take on Amy Winehouse’s iconic ‘Back to Black’. Her conveyance of the number’s tough but soulful sounds and heartbreakingly-honest lyrics, sees its conclusion erupt the audience into acclaim. Indeed, her brassy voice is simply wonderful in transform of the song’s statements into powerful sentiments and her charismatic presence immediately warms her to the audience.

Kristy Apps’ set similarly features some powerful numbers, like a robust performance of Melissa Etheridge’s ‘Bring Me Some Water’, full of turbulence and ache. With a huge voice and driving guitar, she slays through classics like this and Patty Smyth’s ‘Because the Night’, with co-collaborators (and producer/director Allison St Ledger) in vocal accompaniment, such as it so often the case throughout the night.

Nielsen’s versatility takes audiences from the ripping guitar and screaming vocals of a high energy ‘Celebrity Skin’ to a slow and steady ‘Gimme All Your Love’ by Alabama Shakes. Later Marshall sooths us through a bare-bones, but incredibly passionate take on legendary folk singer Tracy Chapman’s anthemic ‘Talkin’ About A Revolution’ highlight as to the importance of speaking up against injustice. And how wonderful it is to hear forgotten classics such as in Sarmardin’s smooth take on Joan Armatrading’s energetic ‘Drop the Pilot’ and Stockholm’s capture of Suzanne Vega’s quiet, urgent storytelling genius in a pop-infused, but very much still guitar-based, ‘Solitude Standing’.

“Girl & Guitar” provides its eager audience a night of no-nonsense driving guitar and soul-stirring lyrics. Punchy vocals and punchier riffs result in a passionate evening that highlights the performers’ talents, but also reminds of the electrifying efforts of renegade axe queens through the ages. Girls and guitars form a formidable combination that deserves to be acknowledged over and over again in shows such as this. With its infectious celebration of the unadulterated joy that music can bring, whether it be from Tammy Wynette or Falling Joys, this is a show no music lover should miss.

Fired up for ’80s fun

All Fired Up (Box Jelly Theatre Company)

Brisbane Powerhouse, Underground Theatre

March 11 – 12

Rachel Terry and Roz Pappalardo’s “All Fired Up” is an appropriately titled show. The Bat Benatar song of its naming not only encapsulates the ultimate message of its narrative and its accompanying, enticing soundtrack, but its infectious pre-show atmosphere… such is the power of nostalgia for one of most divisive decades in modern history.

But… can a trip to the ‘80’s and a chat with your 15-year-old self really solve a mid-life crisis? This is the question at the centre of show’s story, which sees Tammy (Rachel Terry) turn from peri vs puberty battle with her daughter (Scarlett Terry), back to the ‘80s of her own youth, courtesy of the cassette mix tape that catalyses their latest mother-daughter argument.

Much humour comes from the turn-back-time storyline, especially as Tammy tries not to reveal specifics of her since-then history to her teenage self, let alone ways in which the world might change (just don’t mention Whitney Houston!) There is a whirlwind of nostalgic moments in the show’s authentic fill of little details of the TDK tape, Cabbage Patch kid and Passion Pop sort to accompany Tammy’s attempt to solve her problems, one ‘80’s song at a time. And the clever incorporation of iconic lyrics within its dialogue and film-clip nods adds another level to appreciation.

The live band of Tnee Dyer, Thomas Lever, Cameron Nicholls and Mike Turner also looks and sounds the part. And they perfectly capture the energy of the era, from the harder-edge rock of Journey’s still-cheesy anthem ‘to the bubble gum pop stylings of ‘Choose-Life’ numbers, enhanced by Jason Glenwright’s fluro lighting design. Indeed, they give us many standout musical moments, such as recreation of A-ha’s infectious electropop synth riff. And prolific musician Roz Pappalard (who also serves as DJ Neon coming to Tammy’s younger self through her prized possession double tape deck stereo with hits of the decade alongside life advice) is a gutsy singer. Her roaring-engine voice ramps things up with full throttle energy and both inspiration to accomplish anything possible in closing realisation that time’s just holding us down and fire up inspiration that anything is possible.

The ‘80s are about much more than eccentricities and their sounds are spirit-lifting, animating the crowd from the outset. Not only are audience members guaranteed to be singing along and dancing in their seats, but also up on their feet, including through involvement in a take on me  a dance class complete with ‘80s themed moves, E.T. et al style, which represents the framing device of the show’s premise.

“All Fired Up” is a fantastic show! Not only will you want to immediately see it again, but you will be straight-away wishing for its return so that you can also bring along everyone of a similar-life-vintage if you are a teen of the ‘80s. Indeed, it is all incredible feel good, which fits with Cairns-based Box Jelly Theatre’s belief in enhancing the community’s wellbeing through the power of creativity’. Given that studies have shown the power of positive nostalgia ‘80s songs can bring with their upbeat sounds which induce the release of endorphins and serotonin in the brain, “All Fired Up” delivers on multiple levels. From its opening ‘I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll’ through to its titular ‘All Fired Up’, there is, in addition, a looser thread of celebration of ‘80s rock heroines. It also serves as a reminder of how ’80s songs are somehow of their time and also timeless, because, who needs W.A.P when you’ve got Wham! and Madonna?

You don’t need a DeLorean or even a slap of blue eye-shadow to be transported back to the decade of decadence by this very relatable show. All you need is a burning, yearning for somebody to tell you that life ain’t passing you by. Not only will it prompt consideration of the need to make time for the fun that calls your name, but also ponder of what you might say to your 15-year-old self (like don’t ditch all your original band shirts; they will worth a mint one day).