Review: Much Improv About Nothing
Shall I kill Thee, my good lord?
It's always a challenge to review the Cambridge Impronauts. Since you can't see the same performance twice, the only thing I can assure you is that if the rest are anything like the one I saw, their Shakespeare night is a must-see.
At the beginning of the play we have nothing but a handful of people dressed completely in black, and a bassoon player who looks rather lost. While everyone finds their seats, the surprisingly enthusiastic and loud Joel Lipson, doffing a square cap, encourages the audiences to write some metaphors on a piece of paper (which will be read out at random moments during the improvisation).
As always, the audience of the evening decides what the hour-long play will be about. Since the theme of the show is Shakespeare, the only condition was to create a plot which could satisfy the Bard. Shakespeare's bibliography turned out to provide a good basis for a range of gags. Ian McKellen said at the Cambridge Union on Wednesday that in the case of Shakespeare you cannot talk about characters having full background and motivation, but only about clear-cut parts, the character in itself. The Cambridge Impronauts seized on these archetypes to weave a perfectly made up Comedy, Tragedy, History or Romance for us over five nights.
However, the romance was not really the preferred genre (according to Lipson, it is Shakespeare's Hufflepuff). At the night of the premiere the audience decided to see a Tragedy. In the desperate search for an elevated, noble and rare name for the protagonist, they eventually accepted an offer that was none of the three. Thus the play of the night was born: Tom. Prince and poisoner. It was enough for Adi George to start a long, dark monologue immediately in the part of Prince Tom.
In a nutshell, the Prince returning from the battlefield suffers from amnesia; therefore the King (Colin Rothwell) offers his kingdom to his daughter, who is three years and one day younger than Prince Tom. Thus Tom plots revenge: he poisons the King with his favourite cheesecake. Starting from that point, the Shakespearean procession of death is unstoppable. Rothwell's long death-monologue was followed by the sudden murder of the Prince's wife, and then the Prince shuffled off the mortal coil, so to speak, dying in mortal agony. Only the Princess shed her blood wordlessly: all the others improvised a funny and exaggerated speech at the end of the life of their character.
Colin Rothwell as the King dominated the stage (while apparently he was really entertained by the play of his colleagues, since sometimes he was laughing as hard as any of the audience). Of course, for Shakespeare death can't stop you from instigating the murder of the unrightfully crowned ruler after you: therefore he later returned as a ghost. Emil Evans evoked the times when male actors played women, and he was hilarious embodying the woman who pretends to be the Prince's wife. Elise Haga devised her off-the-cuff Shakespearean monologues with fine style – her improvised speeches could appear in any drama attributed to the great playwright.
Generally, the rhythm of the improvisation was smooth and the actors had a good rapport with the audience. The best lines and wittiest answers were rewarded with loud cheers. The winner of the biggest applause was Marie Moullet, in the shoes of the Princess, who was sparkling all night.
The Impronauts also created an imagined castle on the empty stage. In our mind's eye, we could see the tower, the kitchen and the throne room, which all of a sudden turned into a ship heading to battle the Spanish fleet. The bassoon player also provided a fitting atmosphere with his Renaissance tunes, and, proving his sense of humour, he stayed on stage after the performance ended, playing the Game of Thrones theme for the leaving audience.
Although the Impronauts have had other shows which raised more laughter, it was still an entertaining sketch show and a perfect exercise in style.