A little too reductive

26 February 2008

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged), ADC Theatre, 20-23 February, 23:00

Two and a half stars

Reviewer Joe Hunter

The ‘Reduced Shakespeare Company’ hold the world record for a production of Hamlet: 45 seconds. To begin with, the founders of the RSC would perform shortened versions of Shakespeare’s best-loved plays simply for the novelty value; but as they became more popular the comedy element in their adaptations was gradually increased, culminating in their hour-and-a-half show at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in which they set out to perform all of the Bard’s plays (even if Othello is turned into a rap, and all of the comedies are condensed into one pastiche).

Peter Johnson’s production of this highly successful show takes advantage of the flexibility of the script, using a significant amount of improvised/original material. The actors use their own names, and Johnson himself is even involved when one of them runs into the audience and threatens to cut his throat unless the other two agree not to make her perform Hamlet with them. An important feature of The Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged) is that the ‘fourth wall’, the invisible barrier which separates the audience from the action onstage, is not just bypassed, it is completely non-existent. Therefore, the show may be said to stand or fall on how much we believe in/like the stage personas of the three actors, and how well the audience participation works.

From the moment that Lucy Evans strode, spot-lit, onto the stage, and began her introduction to the “unprecedented feat” we were about to witness, the register of the production was ratcheted rather too high. The phrase ‘over-enthusiastic’ kept surfacing in my mind as the show unfolded. The whole thing felt like a clever Smoker sketch that went on for far too long. And yet, like at most Smokers, the audience thoroughly enjoyed themselves; although some of the more ambitious audience participation fell slightly flat.

All three members of the cast are very accomplished comic actors, although Katy Bulmer’s five or so minutes onstage alone were a little strained, over and above the scripted awkwardness that the scene plays upon. Ellie Ross stands out with her slightly deranged depiction of Shakespeare’s heroines, miming vomiting on the front row at every opportunity. But despite the obvious ability of the cast, none of them were quite believable in their stage personas, and consequently the production never really got into full swing. It was, however, rather funny throughout. If you turn up for this Lateshow after having had a few, it might just make you piss yourself.