Impromptu Shakespeare makes one of the biggest boasts you will hear all Fringe: to deliver an entirely new, improvised work by William Shakespeare in an hour. This begins with them demanding that we give them our balls.
Please do not be alarmed. We are simply asked to fling a series of orange balls labelled with Shakespearean themes, settings and character types into the actor’s breeches, from which they select four options which form the basis of the day’s impromptu play. The balls chosen today read: ‘Road’, ‘Birth’, ‘Drugs’ and ‘Verona’ and what ensues is something which riffs on the generic tropes of both Shakespearean tragedy and comedy (power hungry monarchs, lost children, mistaken identity) with specific nods to The Merchant of Venice and Romeo and Juliet. Whilst the pre-determined subjects mean the audience’s involvement in influencing the improv is limited to the act of physical participation via ball-tossing, the categories nonetheless lend the production structure, which is necessary when much of the pleasure of watching spontaneous Shakespeare relies on aping the playwright’s linguistic patterns.
“This is truly authentic improvisation”
This particular show takes a while to warm up but once the actors begin to click and bounce off each other it is a pleasure to watch them develop the plot live onstage. Much improv is so slick at the Fringe that it can appear to be preconceived and, in this sense, Impromptu Shakespeare is a great success, given that watching the performers work out where their increasingly convoluted plot will lead next is a joy to behold. This is truly authentic improvisation.
The show is at its best when the actors push their physical comedy to its limits, indulging in bawdy moments when, riffing on the theme of ‘Drugs’, they place leeches on increasingly risqué body parts. There is no direct compulsion to improvise in verse, but the scenes normally end in clever, improvised rhyming couplets which add to the authentically Shakespearean sound of the production.
Impromptu Shakespeare will be of interest to anyone exploring how various themes of the playwright’s work function when crammed together and to those who enjoy watching skilled improvisers dabble in surreal reworkings of Shakespearean language.
Impromptu Shakespeare has now finished its run at Gilded Balloon Teviot – Nightclub.
Image: Impromptu Shakespeare