ITS Comedy Festival @ Improv Theatre Sydney

Verdict: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (reviewed 18 November)

There’s nothing worse than getting caught with your pants down and that’s what makes the world of improv so fresh and exciting. Sydney’s leading school for improv theatre (Improv Theatre Sydney) showcased a range of talent at its recent comedy festival, with performances by students, local improv ‘influencers’ and special guest artists from Australia and abroad. This variety show was a mixed bag of wacky ideas, showcasing the illimitable bounds of creativity, imagination and play, with just a bare stage, a few actors and no script.

The program we reviewed on Saturday night featured back-to-back combo acts, with each act performing for 30 minutes or so (that’s a lot of unscripted time to fill in the improv world!) Each act performed to a packed crowd who were invited to share prompts to kick off the scene.

Act 1: The Newlyweds: Swingers Party featured improv comedy’s favourite married couple, Marcel and Eleanor, inviting a ‘pre-warned’ volunteer to the stage to partake in an unrehearsed scene. Eleanor, meet Misch; Marcel, meet Barry. Misch and Barry dived right into the deep end and were never stuck for words, always ‘accepting the offer’ as they say in acting class. Even if it meant a fair bit of oversharing about bowel movements while pretending to eat mushroom risotto. Mmmmm!

Next we moved on to Act 2 featuring Tom Snout aka The Mechanical with his wonderful Shakespearean act that uses seven random words given by the audience to create an enthralling tale. “May I have a word?” he prompted, to which I shot up my hand like I was back in kindergarten. “Magpie!!!” (I don’t know what brought it to mind, I just thought it would be cool to have a bard’s interpretation of our native bogan bird). Thus, the seven words were: Magpie, Shadow, Bedsheet, Crusty, Abundant, Penguin and Jester. And thus again, we got a very engaging and hilarious tale of The Crusty Jester, complete with a bogan magpie that gouges the jester’s eye out (as well as his testicle). Ouch!!

Moving on! After a short break we got the double billing of A silent film / Kultura. These were student-led pieces that relied on a bit more prompting, but still managed to entertain with short snippets of improv scenes strung together. The concept of A silent film was quite good; actors creating a feel for the silent film era with a keyboard accompaniment and title-cards via Powerpoint to throw in random sentences like “it will take at least 6 months to earn another dollar!” It inspired some fresh, original scenes such as a shady baker that likes to do graffiti and takes on an apprentice who he frames but she manages to escape and is chased by a policeman who, it turns out, wants her to recreate her “beautiful graffiti murals” to brighten up the dull offices at the local police station. Brilliant!

Kultura draws on diverse cultural backgrounds of the actors to inspire unusual recollections of their childhood memories, such as the guy who used to go to the Chinese video-rental to hire pirated videos. The actors then performed these scenes with an embellishment or a twist. The workshop-style concept was quite good and has potential for a bigger stage with a bit more development.

After a short-break, Bachelor’s Handbag gave us the best of the in-house improv team doing a half-hour scene set randomly anywhere and everywhere…somehow we ended up at a cinema watching Dunkirk (but not really). By this stage the audience were laughing so hard at everything it was a bit hard to keep track. It reminds me of the days of the old playhouses were people would just come to chill and release their emotions, no matter what was playing on stage. Amazing!

The next act, Patrick Rowland and Friends, featured US improv-comedy superstar Patrick Rowland, a very charismatic performer leading the cream of the crop seen in all the previous acts. This 30-min segment was quite good, especially when the scenes were allowed to play out to their logical conclusion and not be cut off too early. (There is such a thing as ‘killing the story’). Loved the spiralling narrative of Rowland fathering several children with lots of different mothers, and as adults they finally get to meet one another. The desperation to work, the grabbing of fake money, the father/daughter reconciliation and Rowland’s insight into his days as an Amazon driver gave the show a social commentary edge that resonated quite well. One of the best acts of the night.

Overall, ITS Comedy Festival inspired your soul to laugh, even if you were having a bad day. And if you’re game and up for it, Improve Theatre Sydney has lots of classes and workshops to nurture your inner clown and discover the art of spontaneity and thinking on your feet.

ITS Comedy Festival played at Improv Theatre Sydney from 16 Nov – 19 Nov. For the list of performances, click here.

For more about Improv Theatre Sydney’s classes, workshops and events, go to

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