There are so many improvisation shows at this year’s Fringe that it often becomes difficult to navigate the pack and find the gems. Moreover, the number of genre-specific improv shows tends to skew towards a number of genres and writers, with musicals as the frontrunners and Shakespeare not far behind. Impromptu Shakespeare set themselves apart by promising an entirely new play in the style of Shakespeare, with a meticulous and disciplined focus on linguistic faithfulness and the absence of anachronisms.
“original and entertaining”
The company have streamlined their production from last year, retaining the excellent trick of having audience members hurl balls with setting and plot suggestions into one of the actor’s britches at the very start, but disposing with the vote on which Shakespearean genre to be performed. While I missed that feature somewhat, I also felt it helped the cast to navigate their way through the improvised drama more effectively and lent it a far less genre-specific tone.
While the five-strong troupe all had their moments in the spotlight, the two performers that seemed most at ease with the improvised pentameter and took their invented characters to exciting and unexpected places were James Irving and Rebecca MacMillan. Both commanded the stage and played their roles as lower status characters with aplomb.
Although a few anachronisms crept in here and there, the group did a wonderful job of presenting something that was not only a feat of improvisational invention but appeared to be a coherent plot in the style of Shakespeare, rather than a selection of skits designed to display each actor’s linguistic virtuosity. On this occasion, we received a tale which revolved around a much hallowed goblet and a maniacal Frenchman, with the most memorable section being the Shakespearean invention of the tourist trap and gift shop.
On the whole, for a Shakespeare enthusiast, it’s an enormously rewarding experience to see a group of performers take what you might assume would be an irreverent approach to the playwright and actually produce something which is, in fact, reasonably faithful. In the same sense as Rhapodes and the Reduced Shakespeare Company, Impromptu Shakespeare manage to deliver an original and entertaining show, rather than something derivative and hackneyed and, for that reason, I’d add them to the list of any Bard fan at the Fringe.
Just the Tonic at the Caves, 3rd – 13th August, 13:30
Image: The Bristol Magazine