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Home arrow Archive: EdFringe 2013 arrow Shhhh - An Improvised Silent Movie
Shhhh - An Improvised Silent Movie
Published on Friday, 09 August 2013

4 stars

Gryphon Venues at the Point Hotel (venue website)
5-10, 12-17, 19-24 Aug, 4:45pm-5:45pm
Reviewed by Lizzie Bell

 Recommended for age 12+ only.

The piano starts up, and the flickering projection welcomes you to the show – a show whose title was decided moments before, and whose plot is yet unwritten. This is Shhhh - An Improvised Silent Movie, and on the day I attended, we were in for a treat. i Bugiardini company gave us The Farmer: a comic tale of love, loss, poker and a cow...

What unfolded was your typical love story.  A farmer and Gwenda, his mistress, were forced to part by his jealous wife.  The lazy farmhand and his accomplice kidnapped her and attempted to hold her for ransom, all the while playing poker with her… though how a cow got so good at cards is a mystery. Oh yes: Gwenda was a cow (and quite a smelly one), so maybe it wasn’t quite your typical love story after all, but it was certainly one that has us laughing all the way through.

The show makes excellent use of lighting, and a scrim in front of the action to allow the all-important intertitles to be interleaved with the acting. The players are dressed plainly in 1920s-style suits and dresses, and use few props. Except for two chairs and some hats, it’s all mime and your imagination, but it works so well. The actors did a brilliant job with exaggerated gestures and expressions to get the audience laughing and help us follow the plot as it unfolded. From the ridiculous tearful scene where the farmer and Gwenda (the cow) had to part, to the jail scene where the accomplice lost everything at poker, I laughed all the way through.

Humbert Caesar (Gwenda the cow) made particularly good use of "thought bubbles" to provide change of pace and variety in the scenes – and of course to reassure us the farmer stayed true to his bovine love. The live music from Andrew Bent, meanwhile, completed the scenes brilliantly. From counting money to tailing the baddy, he mixed familiar tunes with a ragtime feel to enhance the acting, keep up the humour and retain the feel of a 1920s film.

The live titling is also impressive: it meshes perfectly with the theme, and helps keep the audience engaged. But I felt some of the more conversational scenes would have benefitted from more captioning, to keep us amused when there was less opportunity for physical comedy. I am also quite sure the farmer’s name changed on some of the captions, though that’s a minor detail. As is often the case with improvised theatre, some scenes were a little off plot and some characters were underused – but overall I was genuinely impressed by how coherent the story was.

I would highly recommended Shhhh for anyone who enjoys silent films or improvised theatre. For comic effect, imaginative improvisation, and engaging plots, this is a true gem.

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