The BATS Studio is alive with a new energy this Saturday. I ascend the stairs to an arena in a teacup. A crowd rises to the challenge of the thrashing pre-show playlist bantering amidst the radical lighting state. Being handed a knife as I enter, albeit a plastic one, I could not help but get the feeling that this was going to be a more hardcore night of improv than I had experienced in a while. Our host Jennifer O’Sullivan excitedly announces the commencement of the first ever Late Night Knife Fight, revealing a chopping block of a trophy.
“We’re even gonna but their names on it. It’s gonna be awesome”
THE SIBERIAN TIGERS
The duo Diane Pulman and Clare Kerrison bound onto stage quickly introducing themselves selecting Liger from the back row out of a barrage of animals offer by the crowd. They begin by standing opposite each other slowly channeling “Liger” into their physicalities. They demonstrate excellent listening with each other, taking the time to listen and sync with each other before screaming into their characters, an increasingly insecure professional wrestling duo.
Because their characters came from mirroring each other they risked portraying the versions of the same character. However, the character's dynamic revealed itself when they were left alone allowing for soliloquies which opened the characters vulnerabilities. This created tonal contrast as the characters opened up to their unstated romance. This journey from hard to soft is a silly yet engaging debut Late Night Knife Fight.
Lyndon Hood takes the stage for a daring solo performance.
Before a snark portrayal of the life of a squid, Lyndon warms to the audience through a strangely compelling game of charades demonstrating a desperate charm counterpointed with playfully cruel melodrama. While it did take a lot of time out of his 15 minute slot, he managed to form relationships with several audience members. Once established he drew on Simon and Jono throughout his story to relieve tension in his bleak portrayal of a squid life.
As he discovers the body language and subtle head bobbing of the squid's body had the audience's wriggling with laughter, however was lost in the swapping between narration and character. As the one minute bell is rung the story turns into an unwell romance with an Oil Rig.
As risky performances are totally my jam, my voting knife was in his bucket as I left for interval. Given more time I would be delighted to see more scenes within his absurd universes.
They get their ask for in a wave through the audience to the orchestration, rolling from one side to another. Pip Drakeford, Jonny Paul, Ryan Knighton and Sam Irwin take turns describing the barn where puppies are looked after inspired by an audience member's earnest ambition to look after all the breeds of puppies.
They are not afraid to make things difficult for each other. A highlight of the evening was the engineering of Jonny and Sam to perform 10 unique dogs while Ryan and Pippa stood and smugly beamed. Although the constant play of these small rivalries delighted me its constant usurpation of focus may have taken an unfactored amount of time in the short time slot. The layered environment, characters and audience play however detract from the momentum of the narrative, and the story seems to draw to a conclusion before fully spreading its legs highlighting again the importance of pace and time within the short slots.
Fortunately they will have a longer slot next month, as their slick stagecraft and charm wins them the first Late Night Knife Fight.
As the inaugural LNKF has no previous champion, Kickin Rad offers up the award winning collaboration of Matt Powell and Jennifer O’Sullivan Awkward Threesome, to round of the first night joined by Greg Ellis.
The trio are clearly very experienced. Starting with a single lost knife in a dark corner of a dark room in dark town, the story takes a surprising twist to a wedding rehearsal dinner, where Matt and Jen, the wedding couple to be must endure their terrible parents, all four played flawlessly by Greg, using Scottish Accents to differentiate them. The challenge is delightful to watch with the audience giggling at the playful mischaracterization.
Sinister themes reprise amidst the outrageous domestic drama towards the end of the show. We are taken through convoluted noir conventions as the murky thriller concludes with a suitably knife based cliffhanger. While engaging it feels as though some of the suspense is jettisoned in the final act by just stabbing a guy. The team leans into this though, instead wielding the absurdity to raise the difficulty of neatly tying up the story.
It's a real treat to see these improvisers perform, and definitely makes walking back up the stairs after interval worthwhile. Their years of experience are clear in their bold stage presence and relaxed manner. This is promising for The Improvites, as Jen offers mentorship and show.
A special mention should go to Liam Kelly, who deftly underscores the whole hour and a half show. He demonstrates great skill at supporting players with his attitude and stage presence, not drawing focus while remaining enthusiastically energized for the whole hour and a half.
Late Night Knife Fight is a promising premise which has real potential to become a Wellington institution already drawing a sellout crowd in its first show. An exciting opportunity for improvisers to test new content, especially given the open application allowing performers from different backgrounds and experience to play together, or even by themselves. It’s rad, and rad in the way you can be involved.
The next Late Night Knife Fight goes down on Saturday the 16th of July at 8:30PM at Bats in the Studio Theatre. Tickets are $12 concession and $15 full price, groups of ^6+
If you want to compete, you can apply here.