Improvisation is no easy feat, but improvising Shakespeare takes it to the next level. The talented ensemble of ShakeItUp Theatre proves this point with a resounding exclamation mark as they conclude their UK tour of ShakeItUp: The Improvised Shakespeare Show at London's Turbine Theatre. This unique performance, where there are no pre-set characters, no plot, and the entire show relies on audience participation, is a testament to the power of spontaneous creativity in the world of theatre.
Before the show begins, the audience is invited to scribble random one-liners on strips of paper, which would later serve as part of the dialogue for the show. We are then led into the theatre and greeted by two charismatic members of the cast. On this evening it was Becky Gibbs and James Dart who set the stage for the evening's entertainment. The power is then entrusted to the audience who determine the fate of the performance. The first decision we have to make is to choose the genre for the evening: tragedy, comedy, or history. We are then asked for a name of a real-life nemesis and a location. On this particular Halloween evening, the audience chose tragedy, setting the stage for ‘The Tragedy of Janet in Japan’. But what unfolds before our eyes over the next fifty minutes is anything but a typical tragedy. It is a quick-witted, spontaneous, and hysterical comedy.
The cast, for this evening, featuring Joe Prestwich, James Alston, Edward Kaye, Becky Gibbs, and James Dart, are constantly on their toes, responding to the chosen material with impressive agility. Even when a passing train rumbles above the theatre, they cleverly integrate it into the performance, referencing it as a Shinkansen. Throughout the show, they skillfully blend references to Japan (i.e. Toyota, sashimi, soy sauce, fugu) with the conventional tropes of a Shakespearean tragedy such as the tragic hero, conflict, the supernatural, fate and chance. The cast varies across all performances and since the material is dependent on the audience, you're guaranteed a different performance every evening.
The dialogue is witty, fast-paced, and utterly unpredictable. The actors effortlessly conjure soliloquies, monologues, and rhyming couplets seemingly out of thin air, impressing even the most die-hard Shakespeare fans in the audience. Their speech is peppered with the Bard's language, making the performance feel true to the spirit of Shakespearean drama. One of the most engaging aspects of the show is whenever the actors use the lines written by the audience. These moments add an element of surprise and delight, keeping us entertained and invested in the unfolding story. The result is a side-splitting, inexhaustible, and absolutely hysterical piece of theatre that has the audience laughing from start to finish. The skill and chemistry of the cast are evident, and their ability to create a cohesive and entertaining narrative from the audience's suggestions is nothing short of impressive.
While it is clear that this ensemble is very tight-knit, it would have been nice to see a more diverse cast. Perhaps this would add a new cultural dimension, enriching the storytelling with fresh perspectives and experiences. Nonetheless, ShakeItUp: The Improvised Shakespeare Show is a must-see for anyone looking for a night of laughter, spontaneous creativity, and a fresh take on the timeless works of Shakespeare. It showcases the power of improvisation and the enduring appeal of the Bard's genius.
Shakespeare himself would likely applaud this clever and hilarious homage to his craft. ShakeItUp: The Improvised Shakespeare Show is playing the Turbine Theatre until 4th November - for more information and tickets, you can follow the link here.
AD| gifted tickets in return for an honest review | Photography by Abby Forman