Armed only with their wits and matching Elizabethan shirts, the Soothplayers will improvise a new, off-the-cuff play every night for the rest of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival.
It’s a nerve-wracking proposition and the five players on opening night look suitable anxious until they get going, and then there was no stopping them.
Each night, the audience is asked to offer a prompt word that then becomes the cue for a fully formed play, performed in the Shakespearean style: set in his era, following his themes of tragedy, treachery and lovers’ trysts, and borrowing his language. Live music adds to the drama, and this was also improvised.
As each player takes their turn, another layer is added to the story that the following scenes must develop – and remember. A forgotten name – or assumed gender of a player – can be cause for some clever, often hilarious, adjustments and these rare moments are often some of the most delightful.
Picking up on the word ‘Spamlet’, player Adam Hembree set the scene by transporting the opening night’s show to north Sweden, where a wicked King Gunter was force-feeding his meat-starved nation spam, in order to fill his coffers. A beleaguered servant is charged with distributing the gelatinous meat. Meanwhile two sailors arrive as unofficial English envoys and become embroiled in the spam scam, which ends badly for them both, but not without some love interests along the way, an ambitious mother and murderous daughter, a double case of treachery, much finger licking, some poison, and a fight club of ghosts.
It’s as chaotic and fast-paced as it sounds, with many minor twists and turns along the main road to resolution, plus a few farcical asides as the actors smooth over occasional stumbles, some of which evolve into brilliant running jokes.
The audience was on board from the word go, enthralled by the quick-witted creativity and thrilled as each scene was skilfully delivered and another act successfully navigated. It’s a highly impressive feat, as well as lots of fun.
The current Soothplayers call on the acting talents of 15 players. On opening night the cast included Shea Evans, Gabrielle Beasley, Adam Hembree, Ella Lawry, Ryan Patterson, plus tech wizard Meg Deyell and musician Erin Heycox.
Their combined experience is vast, with 125 play titles listed on their website – some of them quite brilliant in name alone. Get along while you can.
2019 Melbourne International Comedy Festival
Completely Improvised Shakespeare
Venue: Trades Hall – Music Room | 54 Victoria St, Carlton VIC
Dates: 8 – 21 April 2019
Tickets: $20 – $28