“ Criterion Theatre, Piccadilly Circus London W1. A production from the Reduced Shakespeare Company. Scheduled to show until 1st April 2001. 37 Shakespeare plays in 97 minutes. „
You can't go round barfing on people, man! - Advantages: You'll laugh so hard you'll cry., You'll fall in love with the actors., You'll be smiling to yourself for the next year! - Disadvantages: You'll come back so often you'll need another source of income.
The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) is a scam! They missed out a play - Coriolanus. Albeit for a very good reason. Who, after all, would want to perform the anus play..!? I saw this production in Sheffield at the Lycem Theatre. I had always been interested by the premise offered by this play and had waited for the chance to go and see it. It has played the Edinburgh Fringe to rave reviews and it is a very good and entertaining piece of comedy theatre. The set-up begins with the actors inroducing themselves and their love of theatre and Shakespeare himself before they launch into the routine. Believe me. Abridged is hardly the word I'd use. Murdered and ripped apart are some of the phrases that come to mind, but, thankfully, that is the point of the evening. Every Shakepeare play, except the anus one, comes under attack with, in most cases, hilarious results. The histories themselves are played like an American Football match with the ball passed from King to King as the years progress. Titus Andronicus becomes a cookery programme. The comedies are lumped together and this part of the show is a little bit of a let-down. Particularly if you are not familiar with the Bard's work. Part of the fun is knowing which play is having the rip taken out of it. You feel a little excluded from the joke if so. Though, in saying this expert knowledge of Shakespeare is not essential. I've not read any since 'A'-level. For most of the evening it is not required as it is perfectly obvious what is going on though the comedies did seem to fall a little flat. The whole of the second half is given over to Hamlet and is performed a number of ways including a performance of the entire play in 12 seconds and, for an encore, backwards. It is in this section of the evening that the audience get involved. BEWARE! If you do not like the thought of being dragged forward onto the stage, sit nowhere near the front of the theatre!
The show itself is incredibly good - I hadn't laughed so much in ages. Many of the jokes were ad-libbed, much to the embarressment of the woman who did get a front row ticket and the family who sat in one of the boxes. (The family were nicknamed the Muppet family after Waldorf and Sattler of Muppet Show fame). Overall, lots of fun, lots of laughs and a great evenings entertainment. This show seems to be on tour perpetually - go and see it if it is near you and give you funny bone a good work out. I wonder what they would have done with the anus play...
Laughed? I almost wet myself - as my usually straight-laced boss described the performance he was taking us to see on a company outing. Instantly I translated this as 'actually funny, not bad considering it's at the theatre' - it has long been my opinion that the theatre has none of the magic of film or television and uncomfortable seats to boot. I was wrong. It was pant-wettingly funny and beat the other media hands down in a fair fight (and the seats had enough legroom for my 5'10" stature). My first reaction (after 'hey, I can sit down here without losing circulation' - although maybe this was just because we were in the stalls) was Gordon Bennet, they're American. What on earth are they doing Shakespeare in London for? Fortunately they settled this issue with a few succinct, uproariously funny gags about Americans doing Shakespeare, and I found myself thanking my lucky stars for the fact that their nationality had given them the opportunity to do this. It also gave a whole new dimension to their attempts to do Scottish accents for 'Macbeth'. And so we were off into the plays, after a brief talk on the academic significance of Shakespeare from their highly qualified cast member with a BA from the University of Santa Cruz, California. Having made themselves sound like they were in no position to even pronounce the names of the plays, they managed to get in a lot of jokes and commentary exploring the deeper level of the plays, without for a moment toning down the level of humour or gaining in pretention. (I'd like to parade the example here of their use of copulating hand puppets in the play within a play in 'Hamlet'.) The 37 plays which they run through are all abridged by different extents. 'Hamlet' is done for the entire second half of the performance, 'Romeo and Juliet' takes about ten to fifteen minutes and 'Much Ado about Nothing' barely gets a mention in t
he condensed version of all 16 of Shakespeare's comedies. I found this didn't make very much difference (I felt a momentary wave of disappointment when I realised that they weren't going to do 'Much Ado' at length, but it didn't make much difference which plays the gags were on, the gags were the thing - or the gagging if Kyle and his determination to do the vomit-version of Shakespeare got involved). A warning at this point: if you are of a nervous disposition, do not sit in the front two rows of the stalls. You will get slightly wet when Ophelia drowns (a fantastic moment, that like in all the best movies, was too good to just do once), you run the risk of being the subject of the Shakespeare with vomit philosophy - mimed only, but still - or you could be generally focussed upon, insulted and dragged up on stage. Don't get me wrong, it's not an unpleasant experience, so long as you're an unembarassable extravert. It's nearest equivalent in other theatre is the pantomime - but this play focusses its attention on adults. I'm not saying don't bring children, they'll find the slapstick hilarious (I hate slapstick and I found the slapstick hilarious), but don't bring them if you've been giving them a sheltered upbringing and don't want to have to explain what the (fully clothed) 'courting' sock puppets are doing to each other afterwards. There are so many brilliant gags both visual and verbal (and involving a man in a wig) that I wouldn't even know where to start on reproducing them - and besides, they're all so much more effective when done by the three brilliant stars of the show - of which for me, Kyle was by far and away the best. Instead I'll give you a dull and dry run-down of some facts: Venue: Criterion Theatre, Picadilly Circus Nearest Tube: Picadilly Circus website: www.reduced-shakespeare.co.uk On: Wednesday to Saturday
evenings 8pm Thursday matinees 3pm Saturday matinees 5pm Sunday matinees 4pm (On Tuesdays they do the Complete Histoy of America instead) Performers: Rick Bland, Kyle Dadd, Gary Fannin Ticket prices: £8-£29.50 Right, that's everything you need to know, now go and book your tickets. PS Further warning: of the fifteen people who went on the trip from my work, 14 said 'I nearly wet my pants, I laughed so hard' and 1 said 'well, it was OK, some of the jokes were quite funny'. Logic therefore says you do have a 1 in 15 chance of thinking it wasn't really worth the money.
In those slack days after Christmas we try each year to get to a play in London. We've rarely been disappointed, having seen such great productions as Miss Saigon and Blood Brothers. We decided this year to try something different so we booked to see "The Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged)" at the Criterion Theatre in Piccadilly Circus. It was brilliant. I have never laughed so much, so continuously throughout a performance before. The company consists only of three performers, Canadian, Rick Bland and Americans, Gary Fannin and John Schwab. These three magicians sought to capture the essence of Shakespeare's entire 37 plays (plus the Sonnets) in 1 1/2 hours, no mean feat. After an intial potted bio of Shakespeare (which half-way through starts to bear an uncanny resemblance to a more infamous character) we launch into the plays. We start with Romeo and Juliet. You have never seen a balcony scene like this! Then it's onto the other plays though the majority of the comedies are distilled into a single composite play. It may be cheating but it is hilarious. Othello is superb, especially as none of the performers is black! It may take you a while to get the first joke but stick with it. After the interval the entire second "act" is taken up with Hamlet. This becomes a real audience-participation piece. If you are in the front row you may even be called up on stage. If you are, don't be embarassed. It's huge fun and no one is made a fool of. You can claim for the rest of your life that you performed in Shakespeare on the West End stage! We came out of the theatre hoarse and with tears of laughter rolling down our cheeks. If I have a criticism, too short. I WANT MORE!!!!!!!!
If you are a Shakespeare fan with not quite an american sense of humour, you might get a little disappointed here. Nevertheless, the cast does certainly and amazing job putting together so much information into a quite relaxed format. There is a lot to see, and you can get a little dizzy if you try to capture it all, so my suggestion is stick to the 3 best prepared acts, Romeo and Juliet, Otello and Hamlet. No, it is not a coincidence that those are the top three in public recognition. It is actually quite amusing to see three funny looking american guys reciting the famous love lines of Romeo and Juliet to each other, or doing a original and surprisingly detailed "rap" of Otello piece. The top part of the show though is certainly the last piece, Hamlet. The story is already complex enough to be done in 15 minutes, nevertheless those three crazy guisas will not only perform it once, but 5 different times , including the impossibly funny "backwards" version. It is a good show and definitely original, so don't miss it, specially if you don't mind being surrounded by american tourists, most of them the "Europe in 15 days" kind of people.
This show really is something else. I haven't laughed so much in ages. The Reduced Shakespeare Company have managed to turn the renowned writings of the great Bard himself into a laugh a minute rollercoaster ride of humour and literature. I was quite literally crying with laughter most of the time we were there. They aim to perform all 37 plays in about an hour and a half - a seemingly impossible task you'd have thought, but not for this cast. They not only achieve their target, they also find time for the sonnets and a reprise of Hamlet! If I just listed the highlights I could go on for pages and pages, however to give you just a hint of the treat in store for you if you are lucky enough to see this show I'll include just a few... Romeo and Juliet - bear in mind that the cast is just three men one of whom has to play Juliet - complete with fetching straw wig and falsies. Now imagine 'her' reaction when Romeo follows the what's in a name speach with "call me but love" :o) A strapping hunk dressed in a straw wig and refusing to call anyone 'butt-love' may not have been what Old Will had in mind, but it sure had me laughing. Then there's Othello - he's a Moor right, so what could be more natural than translating this play into a Rap? And what a Rap! It makes the ones that turn up on Top of The Pops seem incredibly tame. Finally, the best part of all - Hamlet. Such drama, such emotion, such pathos - and what a great workshop bonding experience it was too. You come away with a totally new understanding of the character of Ophelia - and a sore throat from all the laughing and shouting. Don't go and see this expecting it to be a literary classic. But, if you're a shakespeare fan that likes a laugh you'll love it. In fact, even you wouldn't recognise a shakespearean classic if it jumped up and kissed you, you can have a great time with this pl
ay. It has humour, music, costumes, audience participation, a stuffed dinosaur and much much more.