Now I’m running a little late as I enter Circus Bar (which appears to be Wellington’s fastest-growing events venue) so I’m not sure on the pre-show details but I can only assume from the mood in the room that the audience received a warm welcome as suggestions were collected and written up visibly on a large sheet of paper, stage left. The show begins with a seemingly strict format. Each suggestion is circled and one or two scenes play out inspired by it before moving onto the next. As the show goes on, this format gets looser and looser and the performers are allowed to explore things a little more, and bring back earlier characters and content. While the mechanic of the suggestions sheet is a little clumsy at times, and improvisers are occasionally caught fighting for the pen, or struggling to see what has been selected, it largely serves its purpose without too much disruption. The show structure does a nice job of easing us, and the players, into the show and freeing up as we all get into the rhythm of things. Best On Tap generally lean toward these sort of free-flowing formats and it serves their style well. Close is no exception.
The premise of distance provides some really interesting content on this particular night and seems to be a quarry worth mining. Highlights we arelucky enough to see for the first and last time included shared therapy between emotionally distant sisters, strangers uniting in a hypnotist’s waiting room, and a crew of political co-workers stuck in an elevator. About halfway through the show they bring out a sheet and perform a hilarious segment which I later find out is called “the sexy toaster”. The performers all sit under the sheet and stand at random. Anyone standing together with the sheet in hand are in bed together and this leads to some face-paced, and highly entertaining play and a lovely little half-time booster to keep the momentum of the show moving.
Easily the highlight of the show though is the company’s sense of “game”. This is the basic improv concept of finding the fun thing in a scene, and repeating/revisiting it for maximum impact . The strongest scenes all have this in common. The aforementioned hypnotist’s waiting room scene had a central character with another character either side. They could speak eloquently with one, but couldn’t string two words together when speaking to the other. This was played out to great comedic effect, and found in a natural and organic way. None of us knew that was going to happen at the start of the scene, but by the end it was the logical way for things to be. The audience loved it! Another example was a scene set on a train which turned into the most joyous version of the improv game Spacejump I’ve ever seen. As characters came onto the train, the scene changed completely, and every combination was revisited as they left again. It was smooth, and joyous and reflected beautiful the way group dynamics change when someone joins or leaves. I’d happily watch a whole show in this format, and Best on Tap pulled it out of thin air for one scene in the show.
For me that sums up the success of Close. Not every scene hits its stride but when they find a game to play, this capable company of improvising actors (and I mean that, they really are acting! This is not a kooky theatresports show) are able to bring the touching and joyous to the stage by connecting with each other, and sharing those moments with us. We are oh so lucky to see this work live, on the spot right here in Wellington.
Close was performed 30th September to 3rd October 2020 at Circus Bar and will be performed again at BATS Theatre on Friday 9th October. For tickets and buckets more improv checkout the New Zealand Improv Festival website.