This review was originally written for artsHub.
To celebrate the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death (as well as his 452nd birthday), Post-Haste Players are doing something a little bit different. While others are falling over backwards trying to enunciate why Shakespeare is Shakespeare, why his plays still matter, what he might be doing if he was alive today, Post-Haste Players are celebrating his skill for creating new words and new stories with a show that would probably make the man himself laugh and roll in his grave (quite possibly with laughter), at the same time. Using their skills as improvisers and actors well-versed in the themes and patterns in Shakespeare’s plays, the Players are creating entirely new and improvised plays which may be Shakespearean, with the help of the audience. What ensues is, well, nothing short of madness.Dressed simply in coloured shirts and black jeans and playing on a bare stage, the Players (four on this night) enter and briefly explain the rules of the evening, how the audience is encouraged to lend their voices to providing soundscapes to help set the scene (we practice with ‘a rustic countryside’ and ‘Venice’), and the youngest member of the audience was handed a lexicon (the Players’ ‘Bible’) and asked to choose a word which the cast must somehow incorporate into the ensuing play (in the case, ‘impawn’).
What the Players do in the next hour is riff upon ideas and characters we know and love (or hate), imitating monologues and lines in affectionate parody, deploying every trick in the Theatresports handbook to create something unique, hilarious, and quite mad. While each of the four actors are skilled improvisers, they also know when to not interrupt a scene, how to accept audience offerings like impromptu sound effects or laughter into the scenes, how to extend offers of location or incidence to within an inch of their life, and sometimes when to keep milking something for all it’s worth. There is also the mischievous interference from the lighting technician, who is as much a part of the cast as the actors, often changing circumstances through the introduction of a strobe (thunder, a storm, which the audience happily provide the necessary sound-effects) or predetermined lighting effects – a door, moonlight, a downstage pool of light perfect for a soliloquy or two... While none of the actors, and certainly none of the audience have any idea beforehand where the story is going, there are more plot-twists here than a Shakespearean comedy, and an ending which nods to the multiple-marriage/wonder-upon-wonder trope Shakespeare frequently deployed in his own writing.
At times there is a level of credibility which Shakespeare himself would look kindly upon – a villainous character soliloquises a la Richard III or Hamlet; a servant confuses matters and ultimately saves the day – but there is also an indebtedness to the Reduced Shakespeare Company’s oft-performed and always-ridiculous The Complete Works (Abridged), Monty Python’s films, and perhaps Jasper Fforde’s Rocky Horror-esque parody of Richard III in The Eyre Affair. And even though it is all made up in front of our very eyes, and often with our collusion, there’s a kind of long-lasting magic at play here which gives us food for thought for the journey home, and an undeniably enjoyable evening revelling in the Bardly brilliance of the Good Lord Shakespeare.
Appropriately enough, even amongst the hilarity, Post-Haste Players more than capably prove that where there’s a Will, there is always a way.
Happy Birthday, Shakey.