Centred on improvising an hour-long play in the style and spirit of William Shakespeare’s works based on a title taken from audience suggestions, the Soothplayers have managed to breathe new life into a style of writing and way of speaking that although centuries old felt fresh and relatable. Watching the players perform it was clear that they each possessed an astute grasp of the language, styles, and conventions of Shakespeare and have been instructed impeccably on how to recreate these in an improvisational context by director Andrew Strano.
On the night I was lucky enough to witness Soothplayers perform, the title offered was the highly unimaginative “All’s Well that Ends Well”, yet what the team managed to weave from this was an inspiring tale of love and greed wherein romance and affection conquered material gain. Portrayed masterfully within the conventions of a Shakespearean comedy, the performers conveyed a tale replete with Shakespearean elements, utilising mistaken identity and intertwining plot lines to depict the tale of lust-struck Antonio (Charlotte Salusinszky), and his deceptive and lecherous counterpart Lucifer’s (Nick Spunde) ploy to wed Antonio to the beautiful Felicity (Josh Hodges), the eldest daughter of the Duke of Verona (Imogen Palmer). Bookended by a prologue and epilogue delivered beautifully by Nick Spunde, and containing asides to the audience which revealed the motivations of characters such as the Duke and Antonio, All’s Well that Ends Well was an apt title for a performance which culminated with three weddings and left the audience in a state of exuberant delight.
Accompanied on stage by mandolin player Caleb Garfinkel, whose dulcet musical arrangements were also improvised, the show was amusing, entertaining, and incredibly cohesive for an improvised work. While each of the performances were of a high quality, the stand-out for me was Nick Spunde whose natural understanding of the Bard and of improvisation allowed him to drive the narrative and allow other cast members to flourish in the wake of his brilliant offers and scene initiations. Generous as a performer, Spunde left open space for other members of the cast to reap the rewards of his work. A significant and highly comical example of this was Stephanie Crowe’s genius entrance as a naïve gentlewoman searching for a gardening class following a scene in which Spunde mused on female genitalia through floral metaphor. Again, the use of insinuative metaphorical language in these scenes offered another nod to Shakespeare and reaffirmed to me the power of listening as an actor, even when off-stage.
Other performance highlights were offered by Charlotte Salusinszky who produced an energetic and sincere representation of conflicted lover Antonio, a man torn between the longings from his codpiece and the desires of his heart; and Owen Vandenberg as the Duke’s daughter Susannah, a girl cursed with a face “as of an old bag that hath been shat upon” who found love with the aptly noble aristocrat Francesco, played by Dana McMillan. Indeed McMillan’s superb and nuanced characterisation of a member of the opposite sex was just one example of many in an evening that offered a variety of compellingly multi-faceted gender explorations.
Living up to their promise to rock the stage with Bardic thunder, the Soothplayers provided the audience with a thoroughly enjoyable evening of theatre that showcased the undeniable talent of this gifted ensemble of players. Making excellent use of the space they had, and complimented nicely by Garfinkel on mandolin, the show was almost faultless. Though some awkwardly-timed entrances occurred which left me momentarily wondering how things would transpire, they did not impact greatly on my overall enjoyment of an otherwise tight show, and I can honestly commend the Soothplayers and director Andrew Strano on a creative and well-executed concept. Make sure you see it while you still have the chance!