Everyone is an outsider somewhere. Hayley Sproull and Chris Parker know this well, and find fertile ground for comedy, and laughs of identification, in their Outsiders’ Guide: A whirlwind guide to life and reasons yours doesn’t work. The thespianic-comedians are the insiders on the outside, who promise, in beatnik poetry at the top of the show, to expose the “awkward situation / alienation”.
2011 Toi Whakaari acting grads Sproull and Parker are newer faces to Auckland – Sproull bought her genius solo song-cycle Miss Fletcher Sings the Blues here last year, and Parker made his Auckland debut in Thomas Sainsbury’s The Somnambulist – and their faces are very welcome here. They are certainly the most exciting actor/writer duo to emerge out of Wellington since the twin talents of Dan Musgrove and Natalie Medlock.
In Outsiders’ Guide Sproull and Parker have perfected a sketch double-act where they sing, rap, strip, trade insults, and burst into a series of enthusiastic, and increasingly complicated dance sequences. It is hyperactive comedy, picking up a thread then dropping it just as quickly, so nothing outstays its welcome, and they throw our way a huge number of gags to entertain us. The form has a suggestion of making it up on the fly, but their scripting, and the precision of their physical and comic timing, shows just how clever these two are. Outsiders’ has an appealing polished unpolished quality that keeps us guessing as to the depths they will go next.
Sproull and Parker particularly mine social awkwardness as a condition of the outsider, and deliver squirmy sketch commentary on familiar situations such as being the outsiders welcomed to the marae (what song to sing?), or being the people at the funeral who didn’t really know the deceased. They consistently turn the comic gaze on themselves and what makes each other weird and awkward, and most of the comedy comes from this othering of themselves.
While the rapid nature of Sproull and Parker’s guide is part of its charm, there is room for some sections to be further pushed to crescendo. Be warned: they like to include the audience in their devices. This works brilliantly when they use – and return – to certain audience members as points of focus, but the pay-off doesn’t match the build up when they use an audience ‘volunteer’ in a sequence where they need to release their fears. Similarly, a deconstruction of an intermission gives a few chuckles but leads nowhere, but more importantly, disrupts their momentum and it takes us a moment to get back on board.
We do of course; with Sproull and Parker how could we not? They are just the type of cool outsiders you’ll be glad you spent an hour with.
The abridged version of this review goes something like this. It's fantastic! Go see it. The end.
For those of you who need more, read on-- though I'll warn here that the creators have labelled the nature of the work “indefinable”.
Outsiders' Guide, featuring Chris Parker and Hayley Sproull, is described as “a whirlwind guide to life and the reasons yours doesn't work,” but the evening feels nothing like an investigation into self-help or self-improvement. Instead, Outsiders' Guide is a collage of anxiety-producing situations that Parker and Sproull explore through the psyche of both their individual neuroses and the volatile nature of their friendship.
The show begins with a smoke machine, a white sheet, a spaceship and the idea that we are all aliens; outsiders. From here, we move with Parker and Sproull at rapid pace from uncomfortable scenario to uncomfortable scenario.
One moment, we witness Sproull give a ‘presentation' on ‘WHY VOTE', where her only visual aid is a set of various graphs with no data. Another time, Parker and Sproull perform a try-hard karaoke version of Shania Twain's ‘From this Moment' that anyone who's been to the Fringe Bar past 11pm at night can relate to.
Later, the duo make a discovery that prompts a gym routine that ends in embarrassing changing room etiquette. Weddings. Funerals. Drama School. It's all in here, accompanied by projections of pithy titles (e.g. ‘Something Lost Something Gained').
A highlight of the show is the audience participation – case in point of an ‘awkward' situation. We are on the adventure with Parker and Sproull, sometimes literally on stage with them. On opening night in Wellington, Rachel is invited on stage to release her fear of rats.
It's not just the content that makes Outsiders' Guide so damn fun and funny, but it's also the variety of ways each experience, and the accompanying emotions, are conjured. This takes the form of beat poetry, rap, innermost thoughts spoken softly into microphones, song, physical comedy, and dance. I'd go so far as to say the show is worth seeing for the choreography alone.
If you're out for a night that combines both giveaways and symbolism, then this show is the one for you. On opening night, BATS is filled with laughter and smiles. If Outsiders' Guide is boot camp for any form of self-improvement it's the kind that comes from enjoying being where you are now without improvement. The audience certainly was. Without a doubt a must-see for this year's NZ International Comedy Festival.
As I arrive 15 minutes early at The Basement I'm impressed, as the line stretching down the steps is the longest I've seen at this venue. It becomes apparent that there's some technical hiccup with the ticketeking resulting in the show starting around fifteen minutes late.
Eventually the capacity house, half of whom didn't have time to get a drink, is seated and expectantly awaiting edification on what awaits us behind the centre stage floor-to-ceiling white linen screen. The sharp-eyed and/or nosy buggers amongst the crowd may observe an imprecisely concealed table containing an overhead projector back there.
A-a-a-nyway, the show eventually suddenly explodes into being with a visually dynamic moving-coloured-lights-and-shadows spectacle, accompanied by intimidating inquisitive extra-terrestrial type noises, that in turn drops into up-front Outsiders' Guide guides Chris Parker and Hayley Sproull busting out a head-spinning rapid-fire cerebral rhyme-busting vocal intro by two straightforwardly complicated specimens of today's overstimulated youth.
Well and truly introduced now, all we can do is hang on during the ensuing self-professed “boot camp for your life.” What we get is less a self-help seminar than a twisted disclosure of their own foibles and shortcomings in the treacherous realm of interpersonal relations, by two deplorably human gits. All assisted by the yellow dishwashing glove-clad OHP operator supplying the various chapters' titles: ‘Play It Cool', ‘The Honeymoon Is Over', ‘Something Lost Something Gained' and so on.
The script is fast and verbose, the choreography tight and intense, the humour off-the-wall yet all too recognisable. There is variation in the pacing; it's not entirely rattled out at super-speed but there's never a lull in the manic energy underpinning the pair's diligent performance. The inherent discomfort generated by their numerous forays into the audience is useful for the purpose of illustrating the cruel ironies of human existence or whatever.
At some stage it all sadly ends, though not before time as it happens. While so thoroughly entertained it feels like the normal comedy festival hour, it turns out – having already begun so late – it's also gone nearly 15 minutes overtime, so I have to high-tail it to the Brooklyn Bar for the fortunately slightly late-starting Luke Heggie. Lucky they were so good or I'd be resenting the imposition right now…