Once, as I was watching Raw Comedy heats in the lead-up to the Melbourne Comedy Festival, MC Lawrence Mooney promised plenty of 'what we've all come to see – blood on the tracks.'
The best thing about watching Impro Melbourne Theatresports is there's no such schadenfreude – even after the occasional train wreck everyone comes out alive and smiling. In fact, one of the best things is seeing people from other teams come to the rescue of scenes that have stalled. It's a celebration of raw spontaneity and shared creativity.
If you've never seen Theatresports before, the idea is simple but offers endless variety. Teams take turns to improvise a scene around basic elements given to them only seconds beforehand. There's also a narrative style for the scene which is agreed upon beforehand. For example, an 'emotional replay' where the actors improvise a short scene once normally and then repeat the scene but using different emotions, supplied by the audience. On the night, one team had to improvise a highway patrol scene repeated in the context of sexual frustration and then guilt. You have three seconds… go!
Other highlights included three competing Sherlocks trying to solve the murder of a man killed by a blender, a promotional segment for a double-CD of baby sloth sounds and all-time greatest Communist hits, a quest for milk, a kitchen sink drama performed entirely on pogo sticks and a hastily composed 'Feed the World'-style celebrity anthem about finding the right phone charger.
Although there are some good (terrible?) puns, gags and one-liners, the real mark of a good Theatresports scene is the ability to develop rich characters and a plausible storyline. In the first few frenzied seconds of a scene anything is possible, but once the bounds of this reality are set and then gradually added to, only the best performers are able to work with each other to build on what's happened and take it somewhere interesting without blocking each other.
Some teams manage this better than others, and the duo 'Citizen Wayne' showed they deserved their Grand Final win after creating a fully-improvised scene from a David Mamet-style play from a supplied set, which the audience decided to title 'The Books'. Being a Mamet-style play, the audience were also asked to supply a substitute swear word, and 'greg' was dutifully worked into the performance. The duo then cemented their win with a love story about a janitor, where the MC would occasionally pause the action and yell for the performers to express their current emotion through dance, before resuming the scene. The 'Janitor's Flight of Fancy' will stay with me for a long time, let me tell you.
Other moments worked less well, such as a blues tribute to double denim and the 90s, and the MC's warmup patter about predictive text on mobile phones seemed like it would have been better placed in that decade. One team embarked on a series of ill-fated scene ideas that had 'never been seen before', and which they later pronounced would 'never be seen again…'. But even when it went badly it was fun, and one has to admire the spirit in which people can continually walk into the thresher with good cheer.
Plenty of vitality. No blood. Catch an Impro Melbourne Theatresports performance next time if you can.
Impro Melbourne presents
Theatresports™ Grand Final
Venue: National Theatre, 20 Carlisle Street, St Kilda
Date: 13 July, 2013