Impromptu Shakespeare at the Wardrobe, Bristol

It’s true. Shakespeare hasn’t written anything for a while now, so why not deconstruct some of Will’s dramatic elements, print them on to some coloured balls and get an audience to throw them into a ‘bard’s’ britches? The ones that make it into the pantaloons can thence be removed and listed on a board for an improv team to use as a template for a new original. Simple, it works!

So where might this take us – the ‘Merry Wives of Henry VIII’ perhaps, or ‘Two Gentlemen of Windsor’? The balls nestling in the nether reaches of the Tudor bloomers this time around were: A PRAYER; SCOTLAND; FOREST; SMOTHERED, CASTLE and CLIFFTOP. What ensued was, well, how about ‘Much Ado That Ends Well’.

As part of Bristol’s ongoing Shakespeare Festival, the Impromptu Shakespeare team packed out the Wardrobe last night with an enthused and animated audience that whooped and clapped at the end of each mini-scene. Another highly successful run at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe next month looks guaranteed.

Tonight’s improv mash-up centred, whether by accident or quick-witted design, on sexual deception, sometimes hilariously manifested – none more so than with the barrel-chested John Lomas, casting aside his roles as the generously-nosed Rupert, Duke of Nottingham and the invading King of Scotland, to sashay across stage as a wanton wench of the north. James Irving and Rebecca MacMillan were unlikely but surprisingly believable sisters, morphing into male woodcutters to track down and win their eventual spouses. Meanwhile Ailis Duff, as Peter, the Duke’s favourite minion, had a bit more than loyalty in ‘his’ heart for his master.

Faithfully following the balls ‘instructions’ and borrowing an audience member’s name ‘Rachel’ and her favourite forest – Nottingham, we were taken, with many a ‘thou’ and ‘wouldest’ to a time of tumult and intrigue whereby the fate of Nottingham rested on whether or not ‘Rachel’, daughter of the invading King of Scotland won the heart of Rupert, the Duke of Nottingham to bring peace to the land before her Caledonian warlord dad had his head on a spike!

Unleashing a thesp’s goodie bag of Shakespearean methodology to their performances, Impromptu can create realistic facsimiles with the seeming nonchalance of a builder’s whistle. These are seasoned improv artists at the top of their game. That we were drawn to clifftop suspense at the conclusion of tonight’s production was yet more delicious irony, given we were supposedly in the low hills of Nottingham. Impromptu has wit in spades and will continue to win over new audiences with its adlibbed Shakespearean-styled adventures.   ★★★★☆       Simon Bishop   7th July 2017