The audience are greeted by the actors and live music as they enter the Sir Ken Dodd Garden a fabulous outdoor performance space set within the grounds of Shakespeare North. This pre-show is but a taster of what is to come. The space is simply set up with various costumes, musical instruments, props, wigs and weapons.
The company of fours actors all members of Shakespeare’s acting troop ‘The Kings Men’ (The reality is a combination of the teams behind The Rubbish Shakespeare Company and Wing It Impro & Stories) take to the stage ready to perform William Shakespeare’s latest play, but William fails to show, reportedly delayed in Leicester as he has a taste for the cheese. Without a script what are they to do?
The company decide to proceed – they tell us ‘We are going to wing it and hope we don’t create rubbish Shakespeare’ (a nod to each company name). And this is where the audience help as they provide the suggestions from which a new play will be made. With these bare bones, our play is set.
What emerges over the next 70 minutes is quite brilliant and delightfully bonkers. We watch scenes of arranged marriage, death, evil, feuding families, murder, revenge and unrequited love. All themes which have been used in various ways by the bard himself. It is quite clear these actors understand the tropes and structure of Shakespeare and as such you feel safe in their hands as they improvise a brand-new play in this instance ‘The Beautiful, Lovely Woman of Verona’ or ‘As you Will’ titled by a member of the audience.
The lovely woman of Verona is played by Robert Rhys Bond – she is hosting a masked ball, masked because there is a plague. The mad and evil mayor of Verona played by Lee Hithersay plans to scupper the event because, as he reminds us, he is Evil. The subplot is that young Patricio played by Ryan Byrne is having doubts about his arranged marriage to Susan a plan to unite their warring families. And finally, we have the Russian princess played by Mark Smith who having seen the portrait of the mad mayor has ridden thousands of miles to seek his hand and fall in love. This is a tragedy and of course, love never runs smoothly in this case it ends with death and the rats of Verona feasting upon the corpses of the dead.
Each member of the hilarious ensemble is comfortable in creating prose and verse spontaneously, this is made to look effortless. The use of live music and sound effects creates an additional layer which is impressive and certainly takes the frivolity to another level when comparing it to other impro groups of this nature.
Although the story being presented may have been a tragedy, tonight’s entertainment was extremely funny – the audience at various points roaring with laughter. The subtle and playful interactions with the audience were nicely judged and ensured we felt included throughout. Imagine, mixing Monty Python, Blackadder and The Mighty Boosh together and then getting them to perform Shakespeare, this would be the result.
The Incomplete Works of Shakespeare is a brilliant, bold, and very funny evening’s entertainment. It may be aimed at a family audience – but trust me, you don’t need a child to enjoy this!
Runs until 18 September 2022