Impromptu Shakespeare

Thu 15th – Sun 25th August 2013


Kayte Williams

at 00:48 on 23rd Aug 2013



The Underbelly is always an exciting venue to visit, especially with its pun-filled room names, and it provided a great space in which the five-person cast of 'Impromptu Shakespeare' could roam freely about the audience. The actors had plenty of enthusiasm and confidence, particularly Daniel Roberts of 'Racing Minds', but there were a few awkward gaps when ideas were lacking. The suggestions from the audience were constrained to some vague ideas, 'stranded' and 'mischief'. But the cast put together a great plot I'd love to see in a real Shakespeare play.

There were enough well-known Shakespeare tropes to satisfy me (two brother, enchanted wood, star-crossed lovers) and the improvised language sounded sufficiently appropriate. It was noticeable that the actors found the most laughs from breaking out of Shakespearean character, however – for instance, Benedict prays to dream of “his beloved Maria's butt”. If this sounds too blasphemous and un-Shakespearean to you, you'd best avoid. I also have mixed feelings about the theme of female emancipation in tonight's play; while Francesco's archaic misogyny was hilarious, the performance of one cast member in particular became less acting, more political speech-making.

Sylvia Bishop as the abandoned fiancée gave an inventive and funny performance, outshining some others considerably. But she and the rest didn't mind breaking character occasionally or, sadly, pressing on with a dud idea. The dramatic lighting and special effects (masses of dry ice) were consistently exciting and almost magical though, and a word must go to the well placed and atmospheric musical interludes.

While I often laughed my head off at the performers' quick wits, I also felt on edge that any minute the cast might run out of good ideas. There is always a great Shakespearean plot and impressive linguistic skills, I imagine, but I don't think that these performers have reached the peak of their abilities quite yet.


Victoria Ferguson

at 09:39 on 23rd Aug 2013



For any performers who have ever had trouble with hecklers, I’ve discovered the secret to shutting up rowdy spectators. As soon as the actors announced that the house lights would be coming up and they made their way into the audience, silent dread broke out on every face in the room. They did eventually manage to persuade two people to each pick a word out of a polyester Elizabethan hat and so Impromptu Shakespeare were left with the challenge of devising a play around the words ‘stranded’ and ‘mischief’ in the style of the Bard himself.

A groom-to-be finding himself stuck in traffic on the highway developed into a strange but amusing story of bandits, witchcraft and the rampant romance between a young man and an old woman “on the wrong side of 80”. The three male performers in particular were excellent, and their quips were surprisingly funny considering they were off-the-cuff. Daniel Roberts got quite a laugh for his first joke about women being bad drivers. Unfortunately, clearly relieved to have found a topic that tickled his audience, Roberts’ act soon turned into something of a misogynistic rant. He almost redeemed himself at one point, mind you. How could I not swoon upon hearing the words “your words are honeyed and do sweeten the toast of my heart”? I bet Shakespeare wishes he’d written that one.

Unfortunately, I found Sylvia Bishop to be the weak link in an otherwise impressive group of actors. A number of them broke the fourth wall on occasion, but these moments were rare and unexpected enough to be funny. Bishop appeared to be possessed by a rather relentless metaphorical wink at the audience. She grinned at us throughout her performance and, though it was great to know that she found her fellow actors’ jokes as witty as we did, it's difficult to connect with someone whose angry face, happy face and worried face are all the same. It’s confusing and unsettling and it didn’t work in this case either.

I am never at ease watching improvised shows. It is quite an ask to expect an audience to sit through an hour of comedy that has no guarantee of direction or resolution or even humour. The only time that I have ever seen improv work really well is on ‘Whose Line is it Anyway?’, but it has to be remembered that a television show that enjoys all the redemptive powers of editing. Were I to compile all the best bits of Impromptu Shakespeare’s performance, it would be an impressively humorous set and so, despite minor hiccups, they really must be commended.

Bravo to these actors who can give a performance that is completely improvised, that is funny, and that is (almost) entirely delivered in Shakespearean English.


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