“It may not be iambic pentameter but it is pretty f*cking close”
In advance of the start of the Edinburgh Festival, there have been many opportunities to sample some of the works going up there in venues across London, though the only one that I managed to fit into the schedule was The School of Night at the Soho Theatre. The main attraction was the fact that the company contained a number of the Showstoppers crew whose work I have enjoyed several times and so I was in no doubt of their improvisational skills. But where that previous show saw the team coming up with a musical on the spot, helped (or hindered) by audience suggestions, The School of Night sees them focusing on the world of literature, culminating in the creation of a uniquely special Shakespeare play that is shaped and guided by whatever the audience calls out.
Starting off with some improv games based on the reading material of the audience and stories we were encouraged to share, the troupe immediately demonstrate their considerable gift of rapid-fire, quick-witted wordplay and repartee which soon had me howling with laughter. There’s something delightful in the sheer abandon with which the players create such imaginative worlds out of seemingly nothing and they obviously relish the freedom given to them in this opening section.
The main part of the show, the creation of the Shakespeare play, whilst extremely funny in parts and always impressive, lacked something of this expressive joy. Part of it is due to the very nature of the Bard’s plays, there’s a limited canvas within which to work – things get silly of course but always remain in some kind of Shakespeare-related manner – and so the opportunity to improve wildly is curtailed. What we do get is something more cerebral, more intelligent in fact, as their innate understanding and exploration of Shakespearean linguistics and techniques comes to the fore and becomes the fodder from which they bounce off. This is undoubtedly impressive but not always as laugh-out-loud funny as it could be.
Still, my standards were extremely high as Showstoppers has to be one of the best comedy things I’ve ever been to, repeatedly, and the bar was set loftily high. I missed the women from that group, some of the funniest working in the country I’d wager, but I also missed the greater impact that the audience had in that show and the variety that came as a result. Don’t be shy at shouting out suggestions when they are called for, it is immensely satisfying to play your bit in the show – my suggestion for the title of the show was used and my name was also part of a random interval interlude – and despite my slight level of comparative disappointment, The School of Night ought to provide many in Edinburgh with a hilarious afternoon.