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July 28, 2008 | by  | in Theatre | [ssba]

The Young and the Witless & The Miracle Worker

Improv is a wonderful opportunity to sit and appreciate the bizarre things the human mind creates, that no one would ever tell anyone- except they are up on a stage and people are watching- so they have to do something!

Back after a sold out show in the Fringe, the Wellington Improv Troupe (WIT) are performing The Young and the Witless: eight one-hour long episodes of an improvised soap opera, over eight weeks.

They set themselves up for an epic tale, which kept me involved from beginning to end. The Captain of Wellington’s third most popular Inter Island Ferry must not only guide his ship across the seas, but also attempts to win back his ex-wife and prevent the dilithium crystal ball from being stolen!

Within this block buster storyline are many more enormous set-ups, that we cheer for when they are fulfilled (for example, numerous cuts to scenes set in mid air –yes they worked), yet as always with improv, some of the most satisfying laughs come when we see the performers falter, as on the truly romantic line: “we have a connection beyond … what … other people … have.”

As well as these gags, there were moments of genius, that I doubt could have been better timed, and certainly not as well appreciated, if they had been rehearsed; particularly the physical comedy as Seymour Stern (Paul Sullivan) crawls through the ventilation shafts of Marama Jones’ (Clare Kerrison) room.

Accolades go to Jamie Burgess, whose keyboard music (improvised along with the scenes) creates the perfect atmosphere.

The group as a whole demonstrates an impressive ability to gauge their audience’s mood. They know when attention is waning, and it’s time to do something drastic to keep us engaged- and off come their shirts.

An audience connection this strong makes it difficult for improv to disappoint, but there’s just one show left (30 July, 8pm at Bluenote). Get along and find out the answer to the question I’ve been pondering ever since: “who will captain the boat if the captain is not captaining?”

The Young and the Witless
Wellington Improv Troupe
At Bluenote
June 11 – July 30
Reviewed by Fiona McNamara

The Miracle Worker

‘Amatuer’ theatre is a fundamental part of theatre culture. It’s where a lot of us, especially those of us who hail from smaller towns, developed the passion, skills and confidence to pursue a career in the performing arts. One of Wellington’s most long-lasting amatuer theatre society’s is Khandallah Arts Theatre, whose production of William Gibson’s 1950’s play The Miracle Worker, directed by ex-student Jo Bean, is a passionate offering which is executed by the performers with remarkable confidence and flair.

The Miracle Worker is the well-known story of Helen Keller and her dedicated helper, Annie Sullivan. Struck blind, deaf and dumb at the tender age of 18 months, Helen becomes unmanageable as she grows older, throwing tantrums of proportions which even Godzilla would find intimidating. The family, at the end of their tether, are ready to cart her off to the mental asylum, but decide to call in a helper from the Institution for the Blind to give it one last shot. They are landed with Annie, herself formerly blind, who selflessly sets out to indoctrinate Helen into society.

Where this show most stands out is in the superb abilities of its key performers. Annabelle Hammond, who played Helen on opening night, takes to what must be one of the most demanding roles in the young actress repertoire with an admirable conviction. Her ability to convey the demands of such a challenging role was wonderful, and Hammond produced a lot of empathy through her portrayal of Helen’s frustration at being unable to properly communicate with her family. On par was Jessica Doube as Annie, whose poise carried the show along right to the heart-felt ending.

As much as community theatre is vital to theatre’s survival, it can often be the case that artistic risks are given a back seat. Not so with Bean’s production, however. Protruding angles help to break up the space, creating several areas for the shows many scenes to take place. Also, experiments with multi-media help to pull the show away from the ‘same-old same-old’ feel which it would have been all to easy to slip into.

Most importantly, KAT’s production of The Miracle Worker does a great job of convincingly conveying all of the characters, themes and actions which have made this play something of a modern classic.

The Miracle Worker
Written by William Gibson
Directed by Jo Bean
At Cochran Hall
(Cashmere Avenue School, Khandallah)
July 17 – 26


About the Author ()

Fiona was named "Recessionista" in the ASPA Fashion Awards 2009 for her Takaka op-shop frock and spray painted shoes. She co-edits the arts section and also likes to write about women and other stuff.

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