ComedyReviewSouth East

The Improvised Shakespeare Show, Brighton Open Air Theatre (BOAT)

Reviewer: Lela Tredwell

By Shake It Up Theatre

If improvisation is a practice not for the faint-hearted, improvising Shakespeare must surely require the heart of a lion. With witty wordplay and a whole heap of plot twists, Shake It Up Theatre wrestles a spontaneous play out of the jaws of death… the death of the infamous bard over 400 years ago.

What might William Shakespeare say to know that all this time past, players are blagging their way onto stages without a script in an attempt to create a new masterpiece in his signature style? Would he see their endeavours as a wild goose chase? Would he find them a laughingstock? A sorry sight? What would he make of their brave new worlds?

Shake It Up Theatre first emerged onto the improvised Shakespeare scene in 2018 and has since been performing across the UK and internationally. It is difficult not to compare the company to Impromptu Shakespeare (performing at BOAT earlier in the season) who have been going longer and who absolutely excel at their craft. However, The Improvised Shakespeare Show does demonstrate energy and enthusiasm, while offering a different take on a spontaneous story in this style. Tonight, they bound onto the Brighton Open Air Theatre stage wearing their breeches and cloaks, eager for another crack at making it into the Shakespeare canon.

To get us started, the cast asks the audience what flavour of theatre we will be treated to tonight. We vote on whether they will be creating a tragedy, a comedy or a historical play. Comedy receives the loudest cheers, so we are told to expect a tale of mistaken identity, love and good humour.

The details of a first kiss are then elicited from an audience member who was once smooched by a tall, kind fellow called Cori in the woods. The cast also asks for another location and after reviewing a few fun offerings they settle on the suggestion of the Peak District. They now have nearly all they need to get going.

Before they do, another audience member is asked to come up onto the stage. She is told to throw some pieces of paper at the cast. This she does, and the cast scoops up the pieces and stows them in their breeches. This device is a bit odd, not least because it creates a mess and the need for the players to scrabble around picking up the pieces. Mainly, though, because later the cast can’t always find the papers again. Have the pieces navigated their way around the breeches to now become irretrievable? Have they fallen out? Or were there never enough of them in there to begin with? It’s hard to say what has occurred, but perhaps a different way of stowing them away, such as a pouch, would avoid the frenzied ferreting in gussets that takes place throughout the performance.

Written on the pieces of paper are lines created by the audience. At random intervals during the show, a cast member whips out a piece of paper (or tries) and reads the line. They then must justify it in the context of whatever scene they are currently doing. The lines are varying degrees of comic genius, but for all of them, the cast diligently gives them their attention. It’s a twist on a classic improv game that helps the audience feel they’re still an important part of the long-form show even while it is in full swing.

Tonight’s performance involving Cori in the Peak District is created by a cast of James Dart (also Artistic Director), Joe Prestwich (also Assistant Director), Abigail Clay, Edward Kaye and Rebecca Gibbs. All are a joy to watch, but Abigail Clay is particularly compelling. Clay weaves her lines beautifully and creates a very likeable character, which she holds throughout the performance, even through being mistaken for the wealthy and powerful Duke Chatsworth. Her twin, the real Duke Chatsworth is played by Rebecca Gibbs. At times, the real Duke Chatsworth is seemingly villainous, especially when striking the sharp-tongued Viola (Kaye). However, by the end of the performance, the real Chatsworth ends up suddenly marrying Wet (Prestwich), Viola’s nurse, and Viola (Kaye) marries the imposter Pablo (Clay).

Where love is concerned, it isn’t the most satisfying of endings. Arguably, it does follow the fickleness of affections established by Kaye (Voila) and Clay (Pablo) but without a constant love to root for the narrative feels somewhat adrift. At least the doting Cori, played joyously by James Dart, is able to get away from the madness and end his toxic relationship with Viola (Kaye), so perhaps that’s what this has all been about.

Overall, it’s an enjoyable romp through a brave new world with lots of improvised Shakespearean-sounding lines, including an extended metaphor concerning marriage as a pizza box. This is assuredly a fun night out at the theatre, with exuberant wordplay and a whole host of double-entendres.

Reviewed on 6th September 2023

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A Brave New World

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