It is a big year for Impromptu Shakespeare as they are heading off on tour around the UK, so it is the perfect time to chat to team! The last time I spoke to the team for quite some time and the last time was the Edinburgh Fringe 2022. This year is a big one for the team as they are going on tour and with lots of shows in the line up I wanted to find out all about it. Throughout the month I will be talking to Tom Wilkinson, Rebecca MacMillan, and Ailis Duff. Today we talk about the main man himself – Shakespeare
Your show is obviously about one main thing – Shakespeare! How important is it for players to have knowledge of his work?
Some knowledge and shared reference is essential, but we’re a diverse company and we approach his work in different ways. We’re actors, academics, geeks and clowns, and we meet in the middle to play.
Do you have to read his plays and know his work really well to be a player?
Yes, really. Being a genre improviser is like being an AI language model: the better the training data, the more convincing the result… also reading the output of the greatest English-language poet shouldn’t really be considered a hardship (well, maybe a few of the histories excepted).
What is your favourite thing about Shakespeare and why?
His capacity to empathise with everyone – “In a good play everyone is in the right” said Hebbel (maybe) and that’s no more true than with Shakespeare.
What is your favourite play that he has written?
Tom: Assuming we can’t say “Hamlet”… it used to be Henry IV part one, hilarious and devastating and wise, but now I’m closer to Falstaff’s age than Hal’s I’m more drawn to the sunniness of Much Ado About Nothing. That play is closest to our ideal shows, tonally.
There are many adaptations of his work – out of all the different versions and varieties on stage, television and film, what are your favourites and why?
Between all of us, we haven’t scratched the surface. While we catch up on Mosfilm adaptations and Ninagawa retellings, let’s shout out to two 90s populist favourites: the Richard Loncraine/Ian McKellen Richard III for being so accessible and sexy, and Baz Lurmann’s Romeo and Juliet for being so sexy and sexy.
Go on, be honest, do you ever need to have a break from Shakespeare as it becomes too intense?
We’d quibble with the question: he can be farcical and silly and even serene. People can and do stay with him for a lifetime. But yes, we all read other things. Joyce, Ibsen, normal stuff. Twitter.
What is the most important thing that you have learnt from Shakespeare that has inspired you?
Live grandly according to your potential. Brutus said that and he had a battle, can’t remember how that turned out. He was right though.
Is there any Shakespeare plays / areas of Shakespeare that you wish appeared more in your show?
We’ve mentioned the histories already: they’re dramatically tricky at the best of times; but with historically-minded crowds we could have a lot of fun.
How do the audience react to your show – what has been the biggest compliments you have received?
It’s infuriating and lovely to be told that “you can’t have just made that up”.
Your favourite line that Shakespeare ever wrote?
Tom – What about this from The Rape of Lucrece? Taken out of its context it’s a gorgeous, almost Taoist, plea for humility, in a long poem all about Kings and Rome. This is Time’s Glory:“To tame the unicorn and lion wild,To mock the subtle in themselves beguiled,To cheer the ploughman with increaseful crops,And waste huge stones with little water-drops.”
Why should people come and see your show?
It’s hilarious, it’s quick, it’s impressive, and now and again it’ll catch your breath.
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