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May 3, 2010 | by  | in Theatre |
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The Improvisers at Circa Two: A Double Bill of Made Up Mwahaha

7.30pm—Shakespeare the Musical

My two favourite long-form improv shows are Shakespeare and operas. When I heard Shakespeare the Musical was on, that seemed close enough. I was there, ready and excited. Seven performers bounded onto the stage in black pants and shirts and ruffs round their necks; and with a drummer and a keyboardist set out to do the impossible: make a Shakespeare play on the spot… that is also a musical. Brilliant.

Straight away the audience gets to make some calls on what the show will be tonight: we pick tragedy over comedy and history, and we choose the King’s fatal flaw to be… the hiccups. The object chosen to play a fundamental role is, as one performer quips “the most basic of all objects”: a stone.

After the interval (which seemed slightly odd in an improv show, but I suppose with nine people on stage, music and Shakespeare it’s not unreasonable to take a breather) the musicians cheekily ask for two genres of music to increase the pressure on the players; we pick reggae and Chinese Opera. I’m thrilled. Now I get to see Shakespeare the Opera. The genres are not stuck to exclusively, but there is at least one brilliant song of each.

Richard Falkner, you were born to be a reggae artist.

The performers work hard and prove themselves as an ensemble, particularly by jumping in as chorus members and back-up singers to some of the more ambitious songs. As usual in an improv show, some of the best moments for the audience come from the performers getting it wrong, and this performance dealt with this in the ultimate way, with the Spanish villain poking his head out from backstage to correct his prized name, Romondo, that the King and Queen didn’t quite hear because they weren’t on stage when he got introduced.

My only disappointment was that most of the Shakespearean elements were in the pre-formulated structure: prologue, epilogue, main storyline of nobles, scheming villain introduced and the two storylines brought together in the end. I would have liked to have seen more Shakespearean elements actually improvised, because that’s pretty damn hard, and therefore I want to see them try. Ian Harcourt’s prologue was in verse and that was rad, but overall I was sorry at the lack of cross-dressing, asides, silioquies, and most of all of verse. However, it was a pretty sweet mix of Shakespeare and musical. And I had fun.

9pm—Holmes Alone

I loved this show from the beginning. As we wandered in, a charming Dr Watson is sitting smack bang in the centre of the audience block, chattering away to us, and when the show is about to start is rather embarrassed that Holmes hasn’t shown up. There’s something very satisfying when you watch a one-man show and the man we all know is the ‘one man’ is embarrassed that the main character hasn’t turned up yet, and he has to cover for him. It was a one-man show but he wasn’t entirely alone. Robbie Ellis on music and Gareth Ruck operating the lights provide support, or get him in trouble.

Watson asks the audience to remind him the details of the very famous case he will be telling us about tonight. Sherlock Holmes hasn’t shown up, because he is probabaly off somewhere searching for veins that haven’t collapsed yet, so he can have his mid-afternoon “pick me up”. So Watson begins with The Case of the Big Enormous Yellow Shaky Banana. As the story unfolds, the audience gets pretty much everything they want: a teapot at sea, a child’s hand, Miley Cyrus and Belgian midgets. Although not all the initial “ask-fors” are included, it’s impressive that one performer can keep track of a story and all the details as thoroughly as Ellis does. His ability to structure the piece and tie all the elements together in the perfect running time prove Ellis’ skill as a performer.

Shakespeare the Musical
With Greg Ellis, Ian Harcourt, Richard Falkner, Pete Doile, Sophia Elisabeth, Aaron Alexander, Mark Scott
Music by Robbie Ellis and Simon Buxton
Lights by Uther Dean (operated) and Isaac Heron (design)

Holmes Alone
With Greg Ellis
Music by Robbie Ellis
Lights by Gareth Ruck (operated) and Isaac Heron (design)

At Circa Two
27 April – 1 May 2010
book at 04 801 7992 or circatheatre@circa.co.nz

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About the Author ()

Fiona was named "Recessionista" in the ASPA Fashion Awards 2009 for her Takaka op-shop frock and spray painted shoes. She co-edits the arts section and also likes to write about women and other stuff.

Comments (1)

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  1. Deana says:

    Just as a wee note – the only ‘preformulated’ bit of structure for this show was the opening prologue (still substatially improvised). The rest of show is truly improvised which can mean that some nights we hit those ‘Shakespearean elements’ better than others. -thanks for the nice review though!

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