Consisting of a small team of incredibly brave actors, Impromtu Shakespeare sees them improvising an entire 'Shakespeare' play based on audience suggestions. These suggestions are written on ping pong balls before the start of the performance and are then thrown into a pair of breeches on stage. The knowledge and dexterity required to so well, which they do, is astonishing, especially since at times it really does sound authentic.
Had the audience in stitches
Unfortunately, the concept itself proves to be somewhat self-defeating: yes, the actors are very skilled, and their imitation excellent, but tackling the Bard himself is a big job and I would rather just be watching a Shakespeare play. The elements taken from Shakespeare's style were celebrated rather than parodied. This meant that much of the comedy came from the same ideas Shakespeare used (innuendo, cross-dressing, insults), therefore calling into question the very point of the production at all.
That being said, there was comedy to be had – the cast are thrillingly witty and clearly very used to interacting with each other on stage, something which pays off in the form of their frequent gibes at their own and each other’s expense. Such communication is vital in sustaining a (mostly) consistent plot and characters, and for this they should also be praised. After all, at about an hour long, with various plot lines and multiple characters per actor, anyone would be expected to get confused along the way, or indeed, confuse the audience. Fortunately, they manage not to, or at least, no more than any play spoken entirely in 16th century lingo.
You might be reading this and thinking that the dialogue really isn’t for you – you never had any idea what Shakespeare was going on about anyway, never mind a bunch of actors trying to replicate his writing on the spot. Whilst it isn’t for everyone, there are moments of physical comedy; a very funny portrayal of a tree had the audience in stitches, and no one could fail to enjoy one of the cast members’ dive to the ground as an unrequited lover (and since each show is improvised, you don’t even need to worry about that being a spoiler).
It isn’t ever going to match up to what it’s trying to replicate, but with at least an hour less of action to get through, it is much more accessible and not without it’s own merits. Impromptu Shakespeare is amusing and novel, and will certainly leave you greatly admiring the people behind it, even if you wouldn’t want to trade places with them.