Review: Comedy about Bard offers one wild ride

The Complete Works Of William Shakespeare (abridged) [revised], The Capitol, Horsham, Thursday, April 18

Performing all 37 of Shakespeare’s plays in 97 minutes sounds like an impossible task but the Reduced Shakespeare Company have found a way.

Their show isn’t exactly a fast-paced rendition of all the plays, but more of a comedy about Shakespeare’s work that moves like a racehorse.

After a hilarious introduction, the group start the show with Romeo and Juliet, removing any characters they consider irrelevant. They mix Shakespeare’s language with modern American slang, pointing out the unintentionally funny moments in the tragedy.

An eye watering onstage accident (eye watering for men, that is) gets a huge laugh as well.

They then decide to pick up the pace after realising how long they spent covering one play. This leads to a ridiculous version of Macbeth, in which the actors wear kilts and orange wigs and shout at each other in OTT Scottish accents. It’s so exaggerated that it’s impossible to find it offensive.

They also condense Titus Andronicus into a particularly grisly episode of an American cooking show.

When it comes to Othello, the PC performers decide it would be unacceptable for a white actor to play a black character. So they decide to present the play in the most non-stereotypical way they can think of – in the form of a rap song.

The team then knock down all the comedies by taking essential elements from each and condensing them into a single play.

After bickering about whether to perform the final play, Hamlet, and some confusion with the plot from The Lion King, the team decide to go ahead.

Hamlet takes up the entire second act and is then performed again at a super-fast speed. It’s then performed once more at a super-fast speed – but backwards!

While some people may snobbishly turn their noses up at Americans’ grasp of literature, these three fun-loving guys simply ‘get’ Shakespeare.

Despite being able to find the comedy in the Bard’s writing the trio include some surprisingly reverent moments. After moaning that the layers in Shakespeare’s work “make it sucky”, Matthew Pearson finds himself performing the ‘What a piece of work is man’ monologue from Hamlet. He starts off in a fairly derisive tone, which becomes more solemn and awed as the language starts to overwhelm him.

There’s also a wonderful moment when the actors launch into a psychological analysis of Ophelia.

It’s a great part of the show that involves the entire audience and a couple of volunteers onstage – one of whom does a stunning job of performing Ophelia’s scream.

By Lawrence Smith