Never before have I laughed so much in a play that I’ve cried. Never before have I seen an audience burst into spurts of applause mid-scene. Never before have I seen a man with an afro as big as Dylan Townley’s. This is all explained, since never before have I been to an Imps production.
The Play’s the Thing is a heavily improvised tragicomedy, following an entirely new plot each night. Townley and Tom Skelton (who also directed the piece) rely wholly on the audience for the main character’s names, the female lead’s dream, the setting of the play, as well as the focus of their metaphors. Tonight, Patrick and Miranda from the second row gave the characters their names, with an old man at the back choosing the setting of Florence. Metaphors about flowers were cleverly dropped in throughout the piece in the most unlikely of places, with Dom O Keefe at one point shouting, “Although as quiet as a daisy, with this sword I’ll stab you like crazy!”
However, the most attractive aspect of this play was not the ear lobe humour, tangerine jokes or drunken debauchery; it was the fact that the audience who see this play tomorrow evening will probably not understand a single one of those references. The cast have an obviously close relationship and excellent chemistry, allowing them to play off each other with skill and precision, almost always ending in hilarity for the audience. We become absorbed in the play and the actors, with scripted and unscripted scenes merging seamlessly to create fresh and witty comedy. The idea that Sylvia Bishop can come up with a long soliloquy on her death bed seems outrageous, as is Skelton’s brilliant caricature of a monk, attempting to contact God telepathically through lifting his leg and screwing up his face.
But beneath all the silliness and the jokes, the play was fundamentally rooted in Shakespeare. Archaic, Shakespearean English was used throughout The Play’s the Thing – the cast appearing to relish the “thou”s and “hast”s they threw into their sentences. The core of the play merely highlights the intelligence with which it was put together, and the final, death scene emphasises this with the last character left standing bearing a striking resemblance to Ludovico in Othello.
It was funny, it was clever, it mocked English tutors; go and see it.