First off, props to the enthusiastic, styley-as, having a ripper-of-a-time kid sitting in front of me. From the outset he was completely present, in the moment and having a blast. Pretty much the dream punter that this event, Theatresports for Kids 8-12 years old, is aimed at.
Entertaining kids without a clown suit, CGI or access to electricity has got to be hard. That's where the magic of this comes in: it's all in the storytelling and performance as relayed through the expertise of The Improvisors.
I don't envy the Master of Ceremonies – Jennifer O'Sullivan – whose job is to keep it all on track and where you can be in the danger of over-explaining, which can then lead to coming across as patronising. But then, how do you cater for such a wide age range when today's 12 year-old may as well be 25 and 5 year olds vary in worldliness.
I do find the MC's constantly referring to the notepad she's toting, distracting. If the players can do it all without a script surely, she can? Fair enough, when she later outs she's been calculating points and apologises for her maths ability, I feel ya. But who cares? The kids certainly don't as points for players shoot up to the 1000's. She does manage it admirably if the increased volume as the hour progresses is anything to go by.
But it's the players – Ian Harcourt and Jonathan Pryce, looking like a father-son combo (that may be accidental) – whose dynamic holds this all together. I haven't been to the Sunday sessions these are based on but obviously they've tested routines and know what works and what doesn't with kids. The tone is just right and they are generous to eachother and the audience with it. Nice.
Even so, the fast pace of each act seems to wanna hit us with everything in the bag-of-tricks and there's really no need too. Their theatricality and professionalism holds it together. Not to mention their great voices. If they haven't already, RNZ Drama Department sign these fellas up.
Throughout the hour, offers from the audience drive the well worn formula of improvisation. And some of the results are hilarious. ‘Emotional Rollercoaster' is a hit, as too is the ground-hog styled ‘Re-telling of a Fairytale'.
Maybe there's a little too much reliance on the musician (Erin Upjohn-Beatson) and lighting technician (Uther Dean) anticipating action, but that's nothing. Though lighting tech Dean knows how to read a situation, just sayin'.
The set is rudimentary – a few chairs, rubbish bin, books – which gives the impression they rolled in five minutes beforehand; again, so what. This isn't a slick production and it doesn't need to be. And that's what's so great about it – and really, where else can you get an hour's entertainment for $10 these days?
It's a relief to go to something for kids that isn't all twee with the usual bells and whistles (read OTT colourful clothing, butterflies, glitter) and given the highly transferable quality of Theatresports, it does make me wonder why hold this in a theatre? Apart from the lighting it can happen anywhere and if that's the case, I wonder what magic this crew could do for those in a different socio-economic demographic or setting. Just sayin'.