Packed Lunch | Upper Crass Theatre Company | The Exchange Hotel, Balmain, Sydney | Review based on one-night-only performance on 7 April, but show will return for Sydney Fringe Festival in September

What a fun night out!

The exuberance of youth is a wonderful thing, particularly when your own youth is but a dim memory and has been replaced by the restraint of age.

Atlas Adams, Brenton Aimes, Alice Furze, Tom Green, Beth McMullen, James Hartley and James Shepherd perform Packed Lunch for Upper Crass Theatre Company. These ebullient 20-somethings (I’m guessing) put their egos on the line in a night of fast-paced improvisation.

The marketing materials shout: “Packed Lunch is a brand new form of sketch comedy,” but what I saw during the first half were old-school theatre games. Specifically, the form of theatre games branded and perfected by Drew Carey and his team on Whose Line Is It Anyway.

Questions Only (https://www.youtube.com/
), where the scene’s dialogue can only be made up of questions.

Sound Effects (https://www.youtube.com/
), where volunteers from the audience provide sound effects for the scene.

Moving People (https://www.youtube.com/
), where audience members again come on stage to move the actors like statues during the scene.

Whose Line (https://www.youtube.com/watch
), where audience members provide random lines of dialogue via bits of paper in the performer’s pockets.

It’s good old improvisation (known as ‘impro’ back in the day until the American version ‘improv’ replaced it, as ‘cookie’ did ‘biscuit’).

The quality of the improv on the night was variable, which is understandable. It’s hard! The performers on Whose Line Is It Anyway make it look easy because they’ve been doing it for years.

Like a muscle, the ability to think on your feet comes with practice – the more you use it, the better it works, particularly if you’re working off the same people for a long period. You get to know each others’ senses of humour, the way each others’ imaginations work and how your rhythms work together.

The fear inherent in improv gets performers’ hearts pounding and palms sweating, creating an energy that radiates from the stage.

It’s the fear of knowing that, at any minute, under the spotlight and with all eyes on you, you could suddenly find yourself frozen without an idea, like a roo in the headlights. Or, worse, something could suddenly come out of your mouth that falls flatter than a plain-flour pancake.

Improv is terrifying and exhilarating and can give you a high like no other when it works.

But I digress — yes, I’ve done improv many hundreds of years ago when I was as eager and sprightly as these kids, and I’m sure you can tell I miss the thrill.

The fervour and zest of these performers covered all ills. Most importantly, their professionalism shone through and carried them out of the occasional trough. The first rule of improve is To Accept. That means to go with anything any of the other performers throw at you. Never negate, always accept, then offer more.

If they look up, point to the ceiling, and say “Oh my god! An alien spaceship!”, you look up and say “Wow! I never knew alien spaceships were purple. It looks like it’s landing!”. You NEVER say “Don’t be crazy. That’s no alien spaceship”.

These performers unfailingly accepted and offered more, and it was wonderful to see them supporting each other so wholeheartedly.

Icing on the cake was the meal and beverage offered in the price of the ticket! It was a great way to start the evening — The Exchange Hotel is a beautiful setting for a tasty dinner.

The second half of the show WAS something new, and worked for a while but flagged towards the end. It was worth seeing, though, and could very well become a new long-form theatre game. But I won’t give it away …

I’m sorry to have to tell you that it was a one-night run. But the good news is that Packed Lunch — and their new theatre game — will be back in September at the Sydney Fringe Festival.