‘The Great Grandiosa’ was mystical.
Beverages were consumed, palms were read, fortunes told and laughs provided in Act React’s newest concoction of madness, ‘The Great Grandiosa’. Housed in West End’s equally zany The Sideshow, the Grandiosa, along with her three Acolytes, improvised their way through an afternoon of spiritual awakening and spontaneity.
Act React are well known for their ‘The Movie – The Play’ series, where films such as ‘Titanic’, ‘Die Hard’ and ‘Speed’ are flipped on their head and given a new and hilarious life. Travelling all over Australia, and even to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the pop-culture inspired theatre troupe have certainly made their mark on local, interstate and international arts scenes. After a brief hiatus, Act React have returned with full creative force for the Anywhere Festival. With an emphasis on audience interaction and positivity, ‘The Great Grandiosa’ was an organic shift into a fully improvised performance, where both the audience and actors had no idea where the afternoon would lead.
The Great Grandiosa’s Acolytes, Wade Robinson, Tom Dunstan and Scott Driscoll, started the show off with a magical warm-up act. What better way to begin a mystic performance than with a few card tricks… or even the same card trick repeated several times. The Acolytes would “read the audience’s minds” and proceed to produce the same card every time! This haphazard opening number gave the audience permission to loosen into the comedy, which in turn set the tone for the rest of the production. Nothing was to be taken seriously; heckling was strongly encouraged and this was not going to be your standard palm reading.
Like any psychic, the audience told ’The Great Grandiosa’, played by Natalie Bochenski, their woes, thoughts and feelings and she peered into her mind’s eye to give sage wisdom and fortune. Nothing was scripted and everything was complete nonsense.
As The Great Grandiosa made her way down the aisle spinning her ‘spinny thing’ and moving in time to her spiritual theme song, the audience was invited to start throwing prompts to the improvisers on stage. Talking in unison, the Acolytes attempted to meld their brains and give a response that was cohesive. For the Sunday afternoon performance, this led down a route where whales had fought humans for domination but had been relegated to their bedrooms by their mother whales. The entire performance followed a similar off-the-cuff and spontaneous vein. Through small improvised scenes, fortune-telling and audience interaction, the crowd was largely engaged throughout the production, albeit slightly confused at times.
The improvised scene about an audience’s member’s trypophobia (fear of clusters of holes) was a particular highlight. Robinson, Dunstan and Driscoll pieced together a nonsensical Western scene where animals had burrowed tiny holes into the ground. The audience member was then invited to interpret this divine explanation in whatever way they would like. Kudos should be given to the three Acolytes, who managed to come up with a narrative in response to some wildly bizarre prompts.
It is extremely difficult to keep an improvised performance moving, and even more challenging in a sleepy afternoon matinee. While the audience was an encouraging bunch, there were particular segments where the energy and audience investment slightly dwindled. An opportunity existed to further explore new ideas as some jokes lingered too long. While the audience laughed along with the performances and the awkwardness that generally comes with improvised comedy, the wit and content could be taken to a new level in future iterations.
Bochenski as The Great Grandiosa was altogether mystical. It is quite a task to move an improvised performance along and she handled the challenge well. Playing on the stereotypical riffs of a common future-seeing, fortune-telling psychic, Bochenski harnessed the magical tropes, delivering a performance filled with finesse. The audience warmed to her charismatic embodiment and were able to have a good laugh.
Laughter is a remedy for the soul and Act React handed that prescription out in spades. ‘The Great Grandiosa’ allowed audiences to forget about the past and step into the present to indulge in all things silly, good-spirited and outrageous. Audience members were keen to immerse themselves into the world of ‘The Great Grandiosa’ and her predictions brought smiles to many faces. One thing is for certain, rubbing our crystal ball, we can expect great things in the future for this innovative theatre troupe.
‘The Great Grandiosa’ performs until Sunday, 23 May 2021 at The Sideshow West End. For more information visit the Anywhere Festival website.