Sunday, May 26

Rubbish Improvised Shakespeare: The Incomplete Works of Shakespeare – Unity Theatre

If it were done, when ‘tis done, then t’were well it were done wittily. Alack, ‘twas not. For prating merely “thee” and “thou” dost not the bard emulate.

I could probably do this whole review in cod Shakespeare, but it’d soon become tedious, would’st not?

Which pretty much describes last night’s performance of the allegedly improvised Rubbish Shakespeare: The Incomplete Works at the Unity Theatre. The audience were given the illusion of directing the action here but in fact were instructed to pick a year within Shakespeare’s lifetime (1550.) We had wider remit over location (Venice) and plot-hurdle (woodworm in the gondolas.)

A chap near the front was awarded a circlet and crowned King James (anachronistically but lapses in history I can forgive) before being swiftly decoronated in case they needed the prop (they did not.) But there ended the King’s interaction with the cast. Turns out he was simply a vehicle to illustrate the point that the play’s the thing wherein they’ll vaunt the politics of the king.

You see how easy that is, to paraphrase Old Bill, to parody? Now, I may know a little more Shakespeare than the average Malvolio but, zounds, they could have actually just quoted from the Avon man directly with some comic effect. Almost every cliché ever written originated in Shakespeare. And style of as though we, the audience, gifted them the style; they chose, and prepared, that themselves.

So where, then, is the rhyme, the meter, the malapropism, the wit, the poetry, the pathos, the irony? Barring a couple of pre-scripted couplets, an attempted soliloquy and some fairly typical Renaissance plot tropes involving banishment and grisly murder, the performance consisted largely of throwing wigs around and a running in-cast joke about South Wales. There was also a curious lack of physical theatre but the biggest crime against improv was, beyond the initial premise, the exclusion of the audience. For us there was no interaction with the stage, no invitations to join the cast, no spontaneous challenges.

Some points were awarded for resolving the woodworm thread but, despite five acts-worth, not every character’s storyline was concluded. Brevity is the soul of wit but unfortunately this was another piece of Shake-lore that the company chose to ignore: my companion said it was like watching two hours of Pyramus and Thisbe.

A bloke on the, um, electric lute? provided some accompaniment and the cast variously breathed and blew into microphones to create sound effects but their go-to gimmick was to repeatedly echo each other, and nowhere more so than at the point of scene change which every one of the cast announced, for no apparent reason.  Frankly a sixth-form review could have done it better, and cleverer. I am reminded of the Dunning-Kruger effect, where someone’s lack of skill causes them to overestimate their own prowess. Certainly, the cast found themselves hilarious.

But to be fair, so did much of the paying audience. A few didn’t return after the interval (I felt I had to) but the majority did and, whether or not this had to do with the purchase of a festival pass and a vat of malmsey, they did seem to be enjoying themselves.

For me, though, it was a case of alas, poor frolic: all bathos, no pathos and not much for this reviewer to laugh about either.

Reviewer: Miranda Green

Reviewed: 20th April 2024

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.