Impromptu Shakespeare, Edinburgh Festival Fringe

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Though there was likely to have been a level of improvisation in Shakespeare, Impromptu Shakespeare creates a whole new, short play every performance inspired by Shakespeare’s style and language. Though quality will vary from show to show, it remains an impressive display of skill in long form improvisation. This is obviously not a polished performance of a play or a script worthy of development, but the source material is evident and consistent comedy ensure plenty of laughs.

To compile a suitable stimulus on which to ground their piece, each audience member is given ping pong balls with thematic words on them. From the barrage of balls that are soon tossed around the room, several are chosen and written down. An audience member provides his/her name and a location, and off they go.

Today, the English are preparing for war against the Welsh and Cornish. King Matthew of England’s beautiful daughter (played by a man) wants to fight the forces of the Welsh bishop, but the Celtic nations are strong and brutal. Who will win? Will the single bishop find a companion? Will the princess be allowed to fight? The play becomes a rough draft of an unpublished Shakespeare history play that is more talk that action, but still delightfully funny.

The main issue with this format is sustaining any sort pace as the performers think on their feet and deliver lines they make up on the spot. There may be a format that the company follows to ensure some sort of story develops, but there are inevitable loose ends and undeveloped subplots.

Even with a slow pace and a story that doesn’t quite live up to the quality of Shakespeare’s writing, laughs are plentiful in this entertaining display of skill.

Impromptu Shakespeare runs through 28th August.

The Play’s the Thing UK is committed to covering fringe and progressive theatre in London and beyond. It is run entirely voluntarily and needs regular support to ensure its survival. For more information and to help The Play’s the Thing UK provide coverage of the theatre that needs reviews the most, visit its patreon.

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A Dream of Dying, Edinburgh Festival Fringe

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On 16th June 2009, the body of a man was found dead on a beach near Sligo, Ireland. He had given his name as Peter Bergmann at his hotel, but postmortem investigations determined that was an alias. In the days running up to his death, CCTV recorded the man methodically moving around Sligo but taking advantage of cameras’ blind spots, he disposed of all items that could possibly be used to identify him. Monologue A Dream of Dying creates a young man who plans such a death in his future in an attempt to justify why Bergmann might have died the way he did. This quiet, reflective piece may not be the most exciting theatre at the fringe, but its subject matter is a sensitive look at life’s inevitability and the desire to control these final moments.

Lawrence Boothman embodies the fictionalised Bergmann, his friends and family from childhood through to recent graduate on the cusp of the rest of his life. As he contemplates what life will bring him – career, wife, children, grandchildren – he expresses the lingering fear that it could all go wrong. In either case, because life is so unpredictable despite the best laid plans, he is able to plan his death with mechanical precision. The calm rationale is both understandable and unsettling.

Boothman attacks the role with vigour, perhaps too much so in transitions that become rushed. Treasa Nealon’s text follows a natural narrative progression and Boothman tells it with instinct for its rises and falls, lingering over moments of tenderness and celebrating milestones. There’s an anti-theatricality to the piece, but it’s a good story well told.

Peter Bergmann’s true identity was never discovered. His remains evidenced late stage prostate and bone cancer so it is easy to draw conclusions as to why Bergmann chose to end his life. The saddest thing to consider is that whilst he worked hard to make himself unidentifiable, there may have been no one to look for him when he disappeared. A Dream of Dying, though not particularly theatrical, feels like a fitting homage to those that have died unknown and unclaimed the world over.

A Dream of Dying runs through 27th August.

The Play’s the Thing UK is committed to covering fringe and progressive theatre in London and beyond. It is run entirely voluntarily and needs regular support to ensure its survival. For more information and to help The Play’s the Thing UK provide coverage of the theatre that needs reviews the most, visit its patreon.

A Tale of Two Cities: Blood for Blood, Edinburgh Festival Fringe

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A Tale of Two Cities: Blood for Blood is a rather different beast from Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. This choppy, convoluted adaptation lacks the detail and finesse of the novel, though adds a lingering threat and gloom that hangs over this story of revenge and espionage that spans two countries. Though not specifically modernised, the set alludes to greater powers and constant obstacles, but dominates the production and interferes with the action. The script is initially confusing and takes time to settle, but the lost opportunity to capture attention from the start causes the production to never really find its feet.

The set is a baffling assemblage of chairs, with a sound desk commanding attention centre stage. There are a lot of chairs; the stage is literally filled with rows of them reminiscent of a large school room, with enough space in between for one person to cautiously pass. This slows movement to a sleepy pace that clashes with the story’s tension, and after the initial visual impact, they are largely unchanging.

Performances are of a good standard across the board with some excellent multi-rolling. The actors do well to keep a high level of vocal energy despite physical limitations caused by the chairs. The selective use of microphones adds distance and authority, though their inconsistent use is more of a muddled hindrance to the performers and themes in the story.

The story naturally has conflict that helps keep it going, but initial exposition doesn’t lay enough groundwork to create solidly increasing tension. With the reliance on text needed to compensate for the staging, its patchiness makes clashes between characters feel sudden and forced.

A Tale of Two Cities: Blood for Blood certainly has some interesting seeds of ideas, but the script needs smoothing and design needs to be re-thought so it helps the action rather than hinders it.

A Tale of Two Cities: Blood for Blood runs through 28th August.

The Play’s the Thing UK is committed to covering fringe and progressive theatre in London and beyond. It is run entirely voluntarily and needs regular support to ensure its survival. For more information and to help The Play’s the Thing UK provide coverage of the theatre that needs reviews the most, visit its patreon.