Melbourne Fringe Festival

Review: Fringe Festival Comedy: Will It Juice?

17 September 2019

Coming to a fringe festival near you: Will it Juice? the biggest and most bodacious dance crew to hit the Fitzroy art scene.

Except—despite an unapologetic opening dance number to Lizzo’s ‘Juice’—they’re actually an improv comedy group.

We went to see Will It Juice’s sold-out opening show at ‘The Burrow’ at 10pm on Friday the 13th of September. Walking along the dimly-lit Brunswick street, squinting at shop fronts and doing anxious maths to try and find the right address number, we began to think that our search was in vain—a definite Friday the 13th curse.

But alas, we had instead fallen victim to Fitzroy’s charms, finding our destination in the back alley entrance. The outdoor foyer was so quintessentially ‘Fitzroy’: a small space, lit by fairy lights, filled with artsy-looking bodies wearing hats, sipping beers and lounging on benches as they chatted and waited to go in.

The show started about fifteen minutes late, because another show in the same space was going over time. The usher apologised with a simple shrug: “It’s Fringe,” she said.

In opening their show, the nine members of Will It Juice? burst into the dark, intimate space in an array of colours. ‘Juice’ by Lizzo blasted through the speakers, gradually speeding up into a remix as each performer entered the space behind giant, coloured cut-outs of their own heads, perhaps a metaphor for the daunting task ahead of them: there’s nobody and nothing to hide behind in improvised comedy, just your own wit and ability to work as a team. Yet as they idiosyncratically stumbled about the stage in an apparent dance, it was clear that opening night nerves were at play. Despite this, the energy still remained high, and we were soon to discover that the rest of the show felt oddly more rehearsed than the only rehearsed part. That’s not so much a criticism, but an observation that their improv was of an incredibly high standard.

There was something disturbingly Pavlovian about the performers’ ability to instinctively make funny and clever sketches on the prompt of a single word. Even the most caffeinated of audience members would struggle to comprehend how each juicer’s mind worked so quickly and effectively in a split-second to initiate or join a scene, playing off the other team members, and taking the sketches in absurd directions.

However, every single performer still appeared trained and professional. It’s clear that the group has worked together before, as improvised scene changes were clean and co-ordinated, and the nine performers bounced off each other in a way that suggested they all understood and respected their artistic choices. If Ivan taught his dogs to make jokes instead of saliva, we’d have 100 years worth of material by now, and yet in just a single hour, Will It Juice? satiated the void of humour that Pavlov callously deprived humanity.

While at times, the sketches strayed wildly from the original word prompt, they still managed to pack entertaining dialogue and delivery. Michael Hewson-Bower was a stand out, oozing absolute comfort in each character, line or remark. Nothing felt fueled by erratic spontaneity or even much foresight. Instead, his comedy flowed effortlessly and unrestrained, like the smooth words you say to your wife about a sunset in the distance whilst sitting on a rocking chair on the porch with a cup of tea and a good dog at your side.

Every night is different, and we’d be interested to see what else the group will think up. Some jokes didn’t land, but some jokes did. That’s the anxiety and joy of an improv show—when things don’t work, they don’t, but when they do work—or is it juice?—it’s truly exciting to be a witness to a moment of comedic genius.

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