Edinburgh Fringe 2018
Long form improv in which a play in true Shakespeare style will be created before your very eyes.
Back again for another year at the Fringe, Impromptu Shakespeare market their eponymous show as something for Bard fans and “newbies” alike. And, whilst being at least familiar with the style of a typical Shakespeare comedy or romance helps, it’s definitely not essential as this group rely on long form improvisation to create a fresh show each day.
The “freshness” is introduced, as with most improv, through the audience, in this case by giving the audience a handful of orange balls, each of which had a keyword inscribed on it. Or not, in my case as the lettering had rubbed off, possibly through over-deployment. Anyway, audience involvement is swift and vigorous – we get to lob the balls at a character’s piffling pants, into which some luckless actor inserts his or her hand and draws out five balls around which today’s play will be devised. Add in a couple of other suggestions from the audience and we sit back and prepare to listen to a play Shakespeare definitely didn’t write.
And, for the first twenty minutes it seemed like we’d hit on a winner. Some fast interplay between the four female and swarthy male in the cast was littered with sharp asides and cleverly rhymed, improv iambic pentameter, very redolent of the Bard’s style but most definitely not from any of his works. This troupe know their stuff and have the ability to deliver lines that sound like the Bard might have written them but using contemporary language that’s easy on the ear.
This sort of improv takes real skill, it’s akin to having to ad lib in almost a foreign tongue, so hats off to the cast for this little master class. And the plot cantered along quite nicely too, bringing in some great gags and nice asides together with all the keywords and audience suggestions via a series of short scenes marked by tightly cued dialogue, with eyebrows, facial twitches and all manner of other signposts used to flip the lines from one character to another.
So far, so good. But things got a bit soggy in the middle of the piece as a series of rather confusing character changes resulted in both plot progress and the humour so essential to this material faltering. And the challenging task of shoving things forward again seemed to fall on a minority of the participants with others left waiting in the wings for a further chance to contribute.
However, credit to the cast, they breathed new life into it and, in true Shakespeare style, star-crossed lovers sorted themselves out, those of evil intent were dispatched and rival suitors reconciled.
And there’s no doubting the quality of this troupe, especially their ability to extemporise in “Shakespearese”. Such an experienced group as this might have recognised they were heading up a blind alley a bit earlier in the piece but I guess that’s the risk of long form improv – there are just days when the plot goes AWOL.