Reinventing the Bard


Wacky condensation of Shakespeare’s plays is a barrel of laughs

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By: Clara Lock

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) may sound like a lofty name for a production, but this play never runs the risk of taking itself too seriously. Rather, it does not take itself seriously at all.

The trio of Jeff Marlow, Tiger Reel and Dan Saski from the Reduced Shakespeare Company have a tall order from the get-go: Condensing all of Shakespeare’s 37 plays – the volume of which they emphasize by rifling through a thick green tome – into an evening at the theatre.

They do so in a madcap, laugh-a-minute fashion, hamming up classics like Romeo and Juliet with slapstick physicality and exaggerated mime as they quote lines verbatim from the play. Their actions, more than The Bard’s oft-quoted text, drive home their heavily condensed version of Verona as their lines tumble forth speedily, and audience members unfamiliar with the text may find it a tad challenging to keep up.

The tale of the star-crossed lovers is universally recognised, but the script falls short in its assumption that the audience is familiar with Shakespeare’s entire body of work. A cleverly written sketch weaves multiple comedies such as A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Twelfth Night and The Merchant of Venice into one seamless tale, but the references fly fast and furious and sometimes, completely over the heads of the audience.

Still, the comedy has its bright spots of solid writing, and the tragedy of Othello told in a rap is one of the highlights. The trio demonstrate impeccable chemistry and comic timing in bringing to life the tale of the doomed ‘African-Italian’ Moor, and if the humour is a little ribald, perhaps it is a nod to The Bard’s penchant for innuendo.

Less inspiring are the moments where the comedy substitutes histrionics for wit, and a long-running gag (pardon the pun) where Saski depicts a tragic heroine retching her way to her deathbed quickly grows stale. And while the actors’ attempt at audience interaction in act two did draw its fair share of laughter, it also caused the pacing to sag, making much of the second half feel superfluous.

Still, despite basing its premise on a stalwart of literature, this comedy never pretends to be anything close to high-brow fare. Go with that in mind, and you are likely to be rewarded with a bawdy barrel of laughs at the theatre.

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