On a blustery spring evening, in a quiet northern pub, a Melbourne improv troupe took on the Bard for the enjoyment of a Fringe Festival audience. Completely Improvised Shakespeare, performed by the Soothplayers, has been a staple of the Melbourne comedy scene for a few years now. Their reputation proceeds them, and they did not disappoint. The Soothplayers act a Shakespearean play performed completely by improvisation. I was intrigued and ready to be entertained, as was my plus one, as we took our seats in the upstairs theatre of the Courthouse Hotel in North Melbourne.
Our play title, provided by an enthusiastic member of the audience, was Spamalot. What followed was an hour of roller coaster comedy, tragedy, mistaken identity and family in-fighting — with a few puns thrown in for good measure — that culminated in almost all the character’s deaths. I feel no worry in spoiling the ending of the show for you, as each performance is an individually crafted improvisation of a story that could almost have been written by Shakespeare himself, but wasn’t. Which means you could see every performance of Completely Improvised Shakespeare in its Fringe run and each one would be new and different.
The Soothplayers troupe consists of 16 players but each performance is made up of smaller numbers — ours was a group of 6. You could tell that the players were familiar with each other’s rhythms and there was an implicit sense of trust between them. This is something necessary for an improv group but it was also clear that the cast were having as much fun performing as the audience was having watching. Our audience was laughing out loud at and with the players. Like any improvisation, mistakes and goofs were made but each hiccup seemed to be absorbed into the scene as if it was meant to be there.
If you are looking for a fun and different night out, Completely Improvised Shakespeare is definitely something you should be treating yourself and you friends to this Fringe Festival season.
Jen R. is a born-and-bred Melburnian, lover of good food, good wine, and a good laugh. When not doing the above, she practices her terrible comedy on her patients in an inner-city hospital.
Read our guide to Melbourne Fringe Festival 2017.