Review: Impromptu Shakespeare

As we creep closer to Shakespeare Week. Nottinghams Royal Concert Hall shows the trio of touring works from the RSC’s last season - See our reviews of them from last year, and Nottingham hosts it ‘Celebrating Shakespeare Festival’ . We had the opportunity to sit down and see the next great Shakespeare play written before our very eyes.


Impromptu Shakespeare are a troop of wonderful improvising actors with a love for the Bard. The group of 5 set to creating a piece of original theatre based on the audiences suggestions such as ‘A play within a play’, ‘Night-time’, ‘Floods’ and the epic title ‘Snekling and the Minotaur’. Using clearly Shakespearian costumes, buttonless tops and a coloured ruff, and replacing the words ‘you’ for ‘thou’ and ‘the’ for ‘thee’, we were taken back to the 16th century and ready for a piece of drama that we have never seen before , and will never see again.

After setting the scene in an Italian town, where else would be more fitting, the troop used traditional shakespearian stock characters to create a wonderful and broad character spectrum. From the high ranking Lord and Lady who have the comeuppance, to the everyday townsfolk who have a realisation of their inner power. They brought such a vivid and wonderful range of characters to the stage, with such strong characterisation and comic timing.


Within seconds of starting the group had the audience in stitches, it is no wonder they are such frequent visitors of the Edinburgh Comedy Fringe Festival. The interjection of comedy was in perfect balance with what would have been one of Shakespeare’s tragedies - with half of the cast dying by the end of the show. (Plus there was no wedding, all his comedies had a wedding!)

Other than a few comedic moments of breaking the fourth wall and allowing the audience to become involved in their improvisation process, the ensemble held together and created a wonderful story out of thin air, with strong resemblances to Elizabethan theatre. The quintuple of comics gave each other Wonderfull improv offerings and the actors took them on board with all their might to create a seamless piece of improvised theatre. At times it was hard to believe that is wasn’t scripted!


The beauty of live theatre is that you only get to see it live in the moment, and you can’t rewind a moment or replay a section, you enjoy it in the moment. This is why I love improvised theatre all the more, because the audience are so heavily involved in the creation of the piece they are watching. Every member of the audience is on the edge of their seat, waiting to see what happens next, and the twists and turns really do come as a surprise (Sometimes a surprise to the actors as well as the audience).

Was the show Elemental? Yes in parts, they interact with the audience, the entered the stage through the audience and spoke directly to us. The group used such a wonderful sound scape and simplistic set to which we highly enjoyed. Costumes were simplistic and changed in front of the audience in the ‘Epic Theatre’ style audiences have grown to love.


Was it Shakespearian? Thus, Thee and Thou doth not make a play worthy of the name, nor does a ruff and an accent. The play wasn’t in iambic pentameter (its improv, that would have been impossible), rhyming couplets were used sparsely, soliloquies were more monologuey than internal struggles and the staging was not set in the round. Did any of this effect my enjoyment of the show? Of course not. It was a wonderful performance.


The reality of it all is; this group are outstanding at delivering comedy and improvisation of plots and story lines. They use the ‘gimmick’ of Shakespeare to base their stories from, and use his characters and well known tools and techniques as structure. Put all these things together and you have a wonderful night of theatre - I’d go as far to say my favourite show of the year so far. I highly recommend that you see this group while you can!


Impromptu Shakespeare was performed at Nottingham Theatre Royals Studio on Monday the 2nd of March 2020. They will be performing throughout August at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival this year, as well as popping up around the UK. Tickets available from https://www.impromptushakespeare.com/


© 2019 by Elemental Theatre Company