Comedy camaraderie

Speed: The Movie, The Play (Act React)

Labyrinth, Brisbane Powerhouse

February 27 – March 22

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There is a moment during Act React’s “Speed: The Movie, The Play” in which the show’s hero (not Jack Travern as in the movie the show is parodying, but instead just Keanu), instructs audience members to “really press yourself in against some strangers and make some new friends”. It comes as the 171 bus in which we are travelling to Venice Beach (in reality a vintage vehicle on loan from the Queensland Omnibus and Coach Society) is about to leap over a missing 50-feet wide (or whatever that is in metres) chunk of interstate, without the ability to slow down, in recreation of the ‘90s action flick’s immortal, dangerous bridge jump. It’s a standout moment of the show (created by Brisbane-based performers Dan Beeston, Natalie Bochenski and Gregory Rowbotham), not so much narratively, but for the way it conveys the community of camaraderie that develops in shared experience of this immersive work in which audience members assume the roles of hostages on the bus.

It’s a shared sense of fun that begins from back in the show’s opening minutes when all forty members of the audience are crammed together in a make-shift elevator, complete with accompanying musak, before police shimmying towards ‘the death bus’ that represents the location of the majority of the show’s action. As those familiar with the work’s source material, the 1994 action movie “Speed”, will know, a bomber, here known only as Dennis (Damian Campagnolo), as in Dennis Hopper, has seized control of the bus and planted explosives set to detonate when the bus slows below 50 miles per hour.

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While Los Angeles cop Keanu (Daren King) soon appears on the scene to save the day, the audience member hostages are very invested in events, serving as heroes in the story through enlistment to help with tasks or deliver lines. It is all very much as it was in the show’s initial sell-out season in 2015, including having an audience member serve as Sandra (as in Sandra Bullock). Since then the Brisbane-based Act/React have developed a growing repertoire of unique, pop culture-inspired immersive comedy experiences and just as their “Titanic: The Movie, The Play” took aim at Billy Zane, in this show it is Keanu who cops it through King’s over-emphasis of his idiosyncratic chilled acting style and the script’s clever incorporation of many Keanu movie mentions and jokes about his career.

Much humour comes from this craftedness, as well as the ad-libbed moments of dialogue from the skilled cast. Another highlight is the company’s inventive approach to recreating the high-octane nature of the explosive ‘90s film event. Indeed, half the fun of the show is seeing realisation of its logistical ambition as large-scale Hollywood-ish stunts, visual effects and memorable movie moments are recreated on a DIY budget of inflatable objects, cut outs and overhead projections.

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“Speed: The Movie, The Play” is a low tech high camp theatrical romp of the most irreverent sort, perfect for appearance at the Brisbane Comedy Festival. The self-described shameless comedic homage to the 1994 action thriller is packed full of puns, cheesy lines and even some innuendo in attempt to diffuse the bomb that threatens us all. Bomb threats aside, experience of the show is a most enjoyable ride that even features a group singalong amongst new-found fellow passenger friends. Only a passing familiarity with the movie is required, which makes it an easily accessible work that serves as an enjoyable gateway to immersive theatre for those who have perhaps never previously experienced this type of work.

Ready for the ride?

Speed: The Movie, The Play (Brisbane Powerhouse and Act React)

Brisbane Powerhouse, Powerhouse Plaza

September 30 – October 17

Pop quiz, hotshot. There’s a bomb on a bus. Once the bus goes 50 miles an hour, the bomb is armed. If it drops below 50, it blows up. What do you do? What do you do?

Well, first you need to get on the bus in the first place, which is what we eventually do, after first experiencing the elevator and other initial scenes from the 1994 American action film “Speed.” This is interactive theatre at its most interactive and the result is a whole lot of fun for everyone involved.

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“Speed: The Movie, The Play” is, as the title suggests, a recreation of the crazy movie ride in which a young, hotshot cop must prevent a bomb exploding aboard a city bus by keeping its speed above 50 mph (or whatever that is in the metric system, we are told). Condensing the movie down to a 60 minute show length means that the tempo never wanes. Indeed, it is controlled chaos as audiences experience surround-sound-style Hollywood-ish special effects to inventively bring so many of the movie’s moments to plastic, cardboard and projected life.

The show’s accessibility certainly comes from audience familiarity with its source material. Jokes about Keanu Reeves’ career also feature throughout, however, the funniest thing of all, is Keanu himself. As protagonist pitted against the villainous former bomb squad technician played on screen by the late Hollywood legend Dennis Hopper, Dan Beeston does a perfect caricature of the hotshot Canadian actor Keanu Reeves, complete with over-exaggerated, dumbfounded quizzical looks and dopey delivery of lines “Bill and Ted” style. And every time he makes confused comment or gives witless look, especially in ad-lib to the unique audience reactions and comments of each show, he has the passengers in stitches.

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“Speed: The Movie The Play” is indeed, a hilariously funny show. It is easy to see why the show’s 2015 Brisbane Comedy Festival season was a sellout. And from the size of the crowd gathered upon their other-show exits in the Brisbane Powerhouse Plaza in attempt to observe from afar what was happening on the vintage B59 Volvo, tickets are sure to be snapped up quickly again.

When it comes to movie homages, you probably can’t get more madcap. If you like your nostalgia ‘90s show, are sure to love every moment of this non-stop, riotous ride. But be ready to have a blast (#punintended) as you join in a narrative that features Keanu, Dennis, a Sandra and you. It’s sure to be an excellent adventure (whoops, wrong movie) if you are ready for the ride.