Impromptu Shakespeare, Edinburgh Festival Fringe

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 The play becomes a rough draft of an unpublished Shakespeare history play that is more talk that action, but still delightfully funny.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.

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