Late night improv

PlayShop LivePlayshop Live: Guest Designers
Friday 9 August 2013
Paramount Theatre

Since earlier this year, local improv troupe PlayShop have been filling the capital’s late night comedy niche with PlayShop Live, an improv show running every Friday night at Paramount Theatre.

Outside of the comedy festival, late night comedy shows are a bit of a rare beast in Wellington. I think that’s something of a shame; kicking off a show later in the evening often makes for less inhibited performers and more receptive audiences. Being out past your bedtime seems to provide a license – or at least a mutual agreement – to ignore many of the niceties of good taste we usually adhere to during daylight hours.

There’s a certain expectation, therefore, attached to PlayShop Live’s 10.15pm kickoff time. Both times I’ve been along, the audience seems to expect – nay, DEMAND – transgression from the players. And by and large, despite the protestations of the MC that we’ll have to wait until later for that sort of thing, they deliver – overly sensitive audience members need not apply.

To keep things fresh, PlayShop rotate their format about six-weekly or so, with the current format being “Guest Designer”. This is essentially just what it says on the tin – each show in the season features a guest designer who sits at the side of the stage furiously making props and costumes to add an additional element of randomness to proceedings. The PlayShop players, who also rotate each week, play a series of improv games featuring both these props and contributions from the audience.

For me, Guest Designer was somewhat less successful than PlayShop’s Guest Director season; not being a competitive improv format, nor a long-form one, it lacked the structure that having an eventual winner or an overarching plot might provide. Instead, it simply came to an end after a pre-ordained number of games – without fully plumbing the depths of depravity that the MC suggested might be possible at the start.

Those in the audience unfamiliar with improv might have benefited from slightly more detailed explanations of the object of each game. In addition – at least on the night reviewed – the designer seemed to largely ignore audience suggestions in order to make whatever she felt like. Given the materials and time available she still made some pretty impressive stuff, but her props were sometimes not as well utilised by the players as they could be.

Having said all that, PlayShop Live: Guest Designers still makes for a raucously entertaining show, and you could certainly make a number of far worse choices on Courtenay Place on a Friday night than going along to see it. A truly talented troupe, who regularly attract a sell-out crowd – make sure you arrive early.

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