There was a rumour in the 16th century that it was not Shakespeare who wrote his plays, but rather a group of underground artistic intellectuals named The School of Night. In the 21st Century, six fine modern gentlemen, The School of Night, have created an improvisational show in Shakespearean verse.
The show began with dramatic readings (and once the book was taken away, improvisations) from books belonging to the audience. Whilst it was amusing, the lack of introduction left me feeling a little confused. This was followed by the company’s appeal to the audience for an ancestral story to ‘connect the audience with the past’, to which the School created a prologue about a Suffragette great-grandmother, using strictly rhyming iambic pentameter. Failure to rhyme would result in hilarious dramatic punishment. This prologue’s swelling act was an improvised mini-play, created in response to audience ideas.
‘The Quest for the World’ told the somewhat Winter’s Tale-cum-Macbethy story of Leonertes, the depressed individual separated from his mother whom he believes is dead, before being reunited with her, all thanks to the help of a rural character. The players would interject every so often with an analysis, explanation, or suggestion for the action. This in itself became as enjoyable as the play, demonstrating a detailed and academic knowledge of Shakespeare, as well as ingenious improvisational skills.
But it’s not just Shakespeare that they improvised! The ‘Quest for the World’s’ recap was delivered to the audience in the styles of Orton, Beckett, and Pinter respectively. The response given to the Orton request was for both actors onstage to remove their trousers as they conversed lightly; simply brilliant. The cast also revived the suffragette story in the form of an Irish folk song, jazz vocals and a rap.
The improvisation and language chosen were impeccable. All six actors cannot be praised enough for what can only be pure talent and intelligence and, if it weren’t for the audience’s suggestions, you’d surely think the show was as rehearsed as any professional full-length Shakespeare production. Aside from the slightly weak book readings, it was flawless. There is only one conclusion I can draw from this: the original School of Night intellectuals have travelled forward in time to entertain drunken rowdy audiences. How little things have changed.