‘Pasiones: An Improvised Telenovela’ was elaborate.
Warning: the following review contains coarse language and references to suicide.
As part of PIP Theatre’s Toucan Club, ‘Pasiones: An Improvised Telenovela’ opened on the 14th of December. A telenovela, for the uninitiated, is a Spanish soap opera that generally tells one serialised narrative over the course of a year. ‘Pasiones’ has taken all the cadence, spice and melodramatic energy of a telenovela and turned it into an improvised show.
The version of the show that played on the 14th of December was centred around the audience suggestion of a Christmas tree. Subsequently, the act followed a Christmas tree mogul (Pablo de Jesus), his wife (Lydia Chan) and his employees (Janette McBride, Ciaran Kowald and Becky Beverley), all of whom were caught up in a love triangle. From here a bizarre narrative unfolded surrounding the use of AI and nanobots to create Christmas trees, as well as the need to sacrifice an employee to “save Christmas.”
‘Pasiones’ also employed audience participation in the form of cards written by the audience in advance that were read at strategic moments. Incorporating these into a scene was the easiest way to derail or throw a scene in a completely different direction and they were used to comical effect multiple times. Most notably when Beverley threw an enormous wrench in the works of her love triangle by declaring “I have a massive dick.” While some cards were read out, played for their comedy, and moved on from, this one completely altered the trajectory of her character to hilarious effect.
Stepping up from their performances in Big Fork Theatre, ‘Pasiones’ utilised some ambient lighting and music performed by maestro Glenn Stephens (occasionally referred to in character as “Guava”). These elements helped set the mood and exacerbate the melodrama of the premise. Simple choices like a red light when a character was angry or lustful complemented the heightened reality of the story being told, while Stephens’ music was ever-present and always on point tonally.
In expanding their show from their performances at Big Fork Theatre, this production was significantly longer than previous outings produced by McBride and de Jesus at a one hour runtime. Occasionally, the length caught up with them a bit, and some scenes around the middle started to get repetitive or a little aimless. This is to be expected in an improvised story but nonetheless if they weren’t obligated to fill out an hour the narrative may have been sharper. All that can be surmised is that this will improve with continued practice.
Further to this, while four of the five performers did their part to push the plot forward, Chan ended up feeling a little erroneous in her character’s role, only really establishing a meaningful connection to one of the other characters when there were ample opportunities to embroil herself in the love triangle melodrama. She still produced some quality, out-of-pocket lines such as “and yet there are no seeds in my breasts” and contributed when appropriate, but hopefully her roles in future renditions will be more developed.
In this iteration of the show, the standout performer was undoubtedly Ciaran Kowald as Luca. His character had so many strange scenarios thrust upon him and Kowald’s flustered deadpan responses left the audience consistently in stitches. His off-the-cuff line: “No one can give me a straight answer, should I kill myself for Christmas!” was possibly the biggest laugh of the evening, and Kowald’s delivery was impeccably timed.
As an ensemble, the team knew what they were doing and played very well off each other. They were also very comfortable with each other, which helped sell the overtly spicy elements of the premise. Certain moments would not have had the oomph they had were it not for the team’s keenness to throw themselves into a big romantic or sexual gesture. All were very good at picking up on each other’s cues and doing what was best for the story and comedy.
‘Pasiones: An Improvised Telenovela’ is only playing for one more night as part of Toucan Club, and I highly recommend that any improv fans get down to PIP Theatre for it on the 22nd of December. It’s a fun evening of over-the-top spicy revelry.
‘Pasiones: An Improvised Telenovela’ performs until Friday, 22 December 2023 at PIP Theatre. For more information visit their website.