Improvisation always impresses me when it is done well. The concept of creating a scene on the spot in front of an audience is a real talent, and to actually put together an entire play with a plot, characters and themes, well, I think that is just incredible. This year’s Melbourne Fringe Festival had several improv shows in its program, but none quite like Shakesprovisation.
Created by Brianna Williams, Shakesprovisation is a completely improvised play conducted entirely in Elizabethan language. With different actors and comedians taking the stage each night to participate, the show is based on an audience suggestion for the title of the performance, and a flip of a coin determines whether it will be a comedy or a tragedy. The results are hilarious, and you don’t have to know much about William Shakespeare and his plays (or even like them) to enjoy this high-energy fifty minutes of fun, chaotic theatre.
Audience interaction is important in order to get the show rolling when it comes to improvisation, and we are directly introduced to the five players of the evening at the beginning of the performance. On the particular night that I went along to Shakesprovisation, the improvisers were: Brianna Williams, Roland Lewis, Daniel Pavatich, Sarah Reuben and Ben Russell, and a coin toss decided that the play would be a comedy. Shakespearean comedies tend to have several recurring themes that appear sporadically throughout the Bard’s works, and this showcase was no different. The performers managed to not only base a play off of random words provided to them by the audience (‘The Most Excellente Comedie of the Squishy Recycling Bin’ was the challenging title of this night’s masterpiece), but also incorporated royalty, star-crossed lovers, a fool, hysterically vulgar innuendo, and 280 weddings. Not an easy task to say the least.
Each performer seemed to be well-equipped with an extensive vocabulary for a Shakespearean play; some of the words and phrases they spontaneously burst out with were unbelievably perfect for the scene they were conducting. Williams switches from character to character with ease, and it’s plain to see that she is not a stranger to the world of improv. Her quick wit and upbeat confidence enhanced every scene that she was a part of, and her professionalism was a pleasure to watch. Her scenes with Russell in particular were terrific, and each time they interacted resulted in utter hilarity. It is always great to see actors enjoying themselves while performing, and Russell consistently looked like he was having the time of his life on that stage. His depiction of ‘Lonely Paul’ was particularly hysterical.
Reuben and Lewis were equally talented in creating typical Shakespearean characters on the spot, respectively incorporating a sulky Duke and an eager-to-be-wed damsel into the performance. Pavatich seemed to be less confident than his fellow performers. Unlike the others, he did not attempt to use Elizabethan language, and instead opted for a crass Australian tone. This was a little disappointing to begin with, however his ‘lack of poetry’ was addressed in the performance, and the stark contrast between his vocabulary and the other improvisers’ became quite comedic.
Light-hearted and silly, Shakesprovisation is a great homage to the Bard himself, combining sharp humour and classic themes with tight spontaneous theatre. It is certainly a fun and entertaining night out, and is guaranteed to leave audience members with a newfound appreciation for both improvisation and Shakespeare.
Shakesprovisation was on at the Portland Hotel from September 30 until October 5