When you hear the name Shakespeare, you would normally associate it with romance, tragedy and even comedy. But improvised comedy? I cannot say that I have, but the concept most definitely had me intrigued. From the team that brought us Completely Improvised Potter, Soothplayers brings Completely Improvised Shakespeare to the 2021 Melbourne International Comedy Festival.
Comprised of a team of five ‘Players’ and an on-stage musician, they set out to perform a Shakespearean play with a title that is set by the audience. They obtain this title by getting the crowd to shout out different things. During this performance, we shouted our name, our favourite time of day and then a title. Our performance for the next hour was about ‘Harry High Pants’. Adam Hembree instantly steps into the role of King Harry High Pants, a man of very little stature, and with Shea Evans as his awkward and nervously honest servant, the King has a dream to become ‘Harry The Great’.
As the name of the show suggests, each performance is completely improvised. It is fantastically hilarious watching each player work out the plot and direction on the fly. Right at the start, we have a tremendously short monarch as the main character, but when the player is almost 6ft tall, how can we even visualise this? Adam Hembree cleverly shuffles across the stage to mimic the tiny stride the King must have, but also Shea Evans lays flat on his stomach to ‘bow down’ to his King. Providing the illusion that Harry High Pants is indeed very, very short. Even something as simple as Ryan Patterson not reaching to ‘close a window’ that Hembree previously stretched for, had me laughing so hard, my sides were hurting.
Not only is each Player a fantastic actor, their knowledge of Shakespeare and ability to talk in the ‘Shakespearean Dialect’ is a sight to be seen. They are all utterly hilarious in their own special way. Even when one of them slips up and recovers, another player will remember that error and play on it to bring even more hilarity to the performance. The funniest example of this is when one Player accidently said Central England instead of London, it was referred to the former for the remainder of the performance. Even when Melissa McGlensey as the Queen and John Marc Desengano as The Nurse were seemingly stuck, they played off the audience, getting us to shout sports to them to create a training montage.
Improvised comedy is truly unique and it can easily go horribly wrong and fall flat with the audience. However, the experience of the team from Soothplayers ensures that each and every performance goes off without a hitch. It is safe to say that every person in attendance at the performance were in stiches during the show and hopefully, like myself, left with a new appreciation for the fine art of improvised comedy. So much, that I hope to return and catch another ‘one off’ hilarious performance.
Soothplayers ‘Completely Improvised Shakespeare’ is on now from the 5th April through to the 18th April at Trades Hall as part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. Tickets are available from the Comedy Festival website, or directly at the venue. If you plan on buying at the venue, get in early as the show I attended l sold out well before doors opened!
For information on Soothplayers, visit: https://www.soothplayers.com
For tickets, visit: https://www.comedyfestival.com.au/2021/shows/soothplayers