Cards on the table: this is an incredibly impressive show. The sheer speed of the cast’s razor-sharp wit is insane. Is it entertaining? Well, yes, but I won’t be rushing out to buy a second ticket anytime soon. Brought to us by the team behind the superb Showstoppers! The Improvised Musical, a group of wonderfully talented performers fashion a Shakespearean play based on audience suggestions. The entertainment value of this can only go so far, so the format is supplemented by retellings of scenes they have already crafted in the styles of other suggested playwrights and poets.
This is improv for the very well-read. Without a fairly extensive knowledge of drama and poetry it would be easy to miss the parody. Their ability to adopt the style of a given author in a heartbeat is very funny, particularly - in the performance I saw - the jaw-droppingly extraordinary French rhyming couplets they used when told to act in the style of Moliere. It’s so clever that it’s almost despicably smug. There is, however, comparatively little behind the form. Humour and entertainment is derived entirely from the novelty of form parody: once this wears off, content to back up appearance is relatively thin.
Unlike with, say, musicals, there isn’t any real way to hide brain-farts. A repeated refrain in a song can give time to think things through but entire metrical lines of ‘yea’ and ‘’tis true’ are less conducive to forgiveness. Even the most expert performers - whom this group are - are bound to make a mistake, yet this particular format is utterly merciless and offers no lifeline.
As a showcase of talent, Spontaneous Shakespeare gets top marks. It is hard, however, not to feel a little bit self-satisfied when laughing along with the performance. It is certainly amusing in an ‘oh, yes, Eliot was a rather pretentious fellow, wasn’t he?’ kind of way and I feel rather pretentious myself for chortling away.