Returning for yet another year at the Fringe
Remarkably clever stuff
As we enter the venue the audience are all handed little orange ping pong balls, each with a Shakespearean trope inscribed upon it, murder… balconies… storms… pies… the list goes on. The troupe do a great job ramping up the energy at the beginning of the performance having the audience lob their balls into the pantaloons of our “Bard.” The rest of the lucky cast members get to fish around in the poor performers drawers to fish out a selection of balls that become the inspiration of the show.
The show quickly gets underway and it is apparent that this cast know their Shakespeare. What is most immediately obvious is their grasp on the language. In improvised Shakespeare getting the right balance of actually mimicking the style, while still keeping it clear and accessible is both rare and important. They get this balance spot on. The very first thing they do upon starting the main body of the performance is a little monologue from one actor, which is a clever bit of Shakespearean foreshadowing. It is actually remarkably clever stuff, with the cast making plenty of jokes at the expense of the genre. In the first 20 minutes of the show it was all gags, gags, gags which was thoroughly appreciated – with a constant rumble of laughter from the audience. They play up their tropes really nicely, with more often than not a literal wink out to the audience. It feels easy and natural.
It was at this 20-minute point however that it all started to unravel a little. First, we began to see something of a divide in the talents of the cast, with some doing a lot of leg work to push forward the plot while others seemed to place-fill more than anything. The jokes definitely slowed down as the cast strained to get the plot moving forward in one coherent direction. Too many plot points were introduced in the first five minutes leading to a lot of sideline action that didn’t add much to the overall performance. The ending was somewhat contrived, which is not atypical in improv, but perhaps with a little more focus in the beginning scenes they could have allowed a more interesting plot to develop. The main element lacking was a significant impediment between the heroes and the goal. It seemed ridiculously easy for them all to solve the whole conundrum of the piece, leaving the audience thinking – what’s the point?
This cast clearly have the making of a great set up, with charisma and knowledge on their side. A little more work on their pacing of the story, and more structure for how they set up a beginning, middle and end – and who leads that setup – would help them enormously in making this requisite Fringe viewing, rather than simply a pleasant way to spend an hour.