Reviews //

The Bear Pack successfully forages for the audience

After their sold out Comedy Festival appearances in 2022 and their incredibly fruitful touring schedule, the Bear Pack had already set high expectations for the audience.

Sydney Comedy Festival offers a month of shows spanning from Anh Do, Kitty Flanagan and Geraldine Hickey all the way to what I headed to the Enmore Theatre to see last Friday, The Bear Pack.

The Bear Pack is formed of improvisation duo, Steen Raskopoulos and Carlo Ritchie. After their sold out Comedy Festival appearances in 2022 and their incredibly fruitful touring schedule, the Bear Pack had already set high expectations for the audience. 

The two comedians opened their sold out Friday show with a quick game of musical chairs and got straight to asking the audience where they’d like to spend their Friday night. With a distinctly Australian touch, after a few rogue suggestions, we nailed it down to a national landmark — the regional netball club.

Finding balance in theatresports is tricky.  For those unaware of their distinctive comedy model, Raskopoulos and Ritchie’s set consists of witty improvisation triggered by audience contributions that they use to create their 55 minute plot. The act was accompanied by the talented celloist Ange Lavioperre where the tensions, climaxes and character breaks were mirrored by the ethereal string improv. 

The toughest element of a style like The Bear Pack’s is the length of their improv skit. Balancing three incidental audience suggestions, even the duo couldn’t contain their laughter as they developed their netball-playing, Clint Eastwood-esque, oil-farming, child-hero world. But with years of experience and their expertise in world building, the duo was able to draw over ten characters between them, each with their own distinct dialogue and audience relationship. 

The duo attempted to stump each other which lightened the audience reaction and demonstrated their robust chemistry. This was partnered with the rhythm of the skit, as it oscillated between hilariously hard to follow to simplistic and effective. Their plot snowballed as they strategically wove audience contributions together.

Managing a creative medium with evolving standards of audience approval is not a task for the faint of heart. The audience demographic was mostly millennial to middle-aged proved asymptomatic to the quality of the comedy. Given that the improvisation style relies heavily on audience engagement, the duo cleverly reeled in the raptures of all ages with a series of character breaks and recurring mentions to the audience’s initial contributions.  Accompanying this, Lavioperre’s cello work was a refreshing secondary element to the ebbs and flows of the audience reaction. 

Throughout, the audience felt bold enough to correct them with their netball facts, offer comments of approval and even add to the duo’s script. This engagement never felt like a disruption but a true embracing of the beauty of collective theatre, which the duo soaked up entirely. 

Given that the uncompromising Sydney-based duo began in the University of Sydney’s Hermann’s Bar, I couldn’t help but leave feeling proud. I was refreshed. The duo provided a creative testament to theatresports, with fascinating quick wit and charismatic improv. Their Sydney roots and clever homage to Hermann’s Bar reflected their roots in a fun and fresh manner. 

Overall, The Bear Pack’s show was a rapturous experience which provided a really substantial serotonin boost. The duo, the audience and the theatrical design was a fantastic representation of the potential for improv art to fill performance venues with roars of laughter. 

Thank you, Bear Pack.