A fun family night of comical concoctions was staged by Impro Melbourne for its annual Celebrity Theatresports event at the National theatre in St Kilda.

A main feature of the Melbourne Comedy Festival line-up of events, this was the 26th year that audiences have got to see four teams of four celebrities each, compete for the prestigious Peter Cook cup.  Russell Fletcher was the perfect  MC for the almost capacity crowd  – making sure suggestions were suitable for the family friendly show, and provided maximum hilarious opportunity for the team game challenges which take us though 6 rounds of improvisational games being scored by three judges. Fletcher was ably supported by Gordon Dorin on keyboard whose musical accompaniments added to the amusing atmosphere of many scenes and all was kept in order by Ron Hailes as timekeeper /scorer.

Governing each round is a strategic theme where captains can then play to their strengths by selecting a specific type of improvisational game and get assistance from the audience as to the location, emotion, character or scenario. Certainly some games and scenarios worked better than others – but this is live theatre and the audience was certainly receptive to the creative ‘off the cuff’ offerings on display. The more seasoned grouping of “Green and Mean” (captained by Sarah Kinsella and including Lawrence Mooney, Scott Brennan and Queenie VanDeZandt) created humorous buzz right from the start– be it the rollercoaster challenge that moved them from a Cowboy Western to Scotland to suburban Preston or the Vocal Challenge that demonstrated their strong teamwork and singing skills when having to enact an opera focussing on the iphone5. Admittedly, their ‘Sing About It’ sketch did fall a little flat but one out of six ain’t bad. The running gag of Preston was picked up to entertaining effect by many teams during the night.

The red team “U Talkin’ To Me?” (lead by Patti Stiles and supported by Toby Truslove, Kevin Harrington and Wog Boy favourite George Kapiniaris) worked extremely well together be it replaying a Shakespearean supermarket scene or enacting a dramatic Uzbekistan love poem about divorce. Definite highlights for them though were singing their hearts out about a cat in the style of Eurovision as well as taking on the numbered word challenge as removalists. Quick thinking and team work at its inventive best.

The “Tie of the Tiger” yellow team (lead by Patrick Duffy teaming up with Neighbours stars James Mason, Morgan Baker and the comically talented Morgana O’Reilly) were perhaps the least experienced of the groups and at times this showed – perhaps not projecting enough for the large audience being used to television or being unable to build upon an unscripted comical thread. However, there were moments of clever building slapstick in the Time Reduction scene that replayed a supermarket mustard chase several times and when they involved an audience member’s mobile phone conversation thread to assist their nursing home skit.

The “Blockinspiels” purple team (lead by comedian Rik Brown and aided by Chris Keogh and recent Block winners Chantelle and Steve) had the audience in stitches with their interpretative dance routine that focussed on acne and cleverly incorporated a young boy named Calvin from the audience. Quick wit was also shown in the emotion changing skit of a jumping castle as well as their One Man Musical which showcased the brilliance of Rik Brown milking each available moment.

Overall a night like this is fast moving and unexpected. Audiences were treated to zany brainstorming comical talents, a variety of mostly riotous sketches and the opportunity for some classic one liners. The other appeal about this kind of show is when the other teams ‘assist’ the front and centre team through backup props – the physicalisation of three teams “Walking Dead” in a zombie scene, a red member as a whirly whirly dust devil across the stage during Green and Mean’s western routine or when two of the Blockinspiels inserted themselves as gothic statues in the haunted house of the Tie of the Tiger’s challenge certainly got laughs. Highly commendable was the quick thinking and ingenuity of the three person props team who endlessly added to the scenarios with just the right jacket, tree branch or cloth for all the suggestions made by the audience for the rounds. The only criticism was, despite the event premise of ‘celebrity’, there was a lacking of this as far as the hanging jury was concerned – the involvement of Santa and Jimmy from the crowd acting as ‘celebrities’ to assist Jenny Lovell did weaken their role and the opportunity for entertaining involvement.

However, the main focus was the routines and these definitely kept the enthusiastic crowd entertained for over two hours. In the end it was the red team that took home the trophy but honestly, the crowd would have been happy with any group given the funny enactments we had all been witness to. Celebrity Theatresports is a definite highlight of the Festival and should be on people’s must see list each year, or if you’re hankering for some “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” live action before 2015 then check out Impro Melbourne’s regular schedule in Abbotsford.

 

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