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The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) (revised), Leicester Square Theatre

William Shakespeare 
Adapted by Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield 
Directed by Matt Rippy 

Pros: Great venue, enthusiastic performances, perfectly timed comedy. These renditions of the Bard’s work will appeal to keen Shakespeare fans and the not so keen alike.

Cons: None except that the queue at the bar was a bit long at the interval, but when is it not?

Our Verdict: A brilliantly timed, hilarious homage to Shakespeare’s work which appeals to audiences of all ages.

Courtesy of Reduced Shakespeare Company

This is a show I once saw over ten years ago. I remembered nothing about it except that I spent the evening in fits of laughter. The kind of laughter where I was physically holding onto my sides and and trying not to roll around on the floor. Hence, I was excited to relive the magic. I was curious to see if it had managed to adapt to the times while retaining its hilarity. It had.

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) was created back in 1987 by the Reduced Shakespeare Company, a touring American theatre group. It played at the Criterion Theatre, London, for nine years and has become popular throughout the world. The company have also created a number of condensed shows including America (abridged) (which summarises the entire history of the continent), as well as The Bible (abridged).

The play is currently touring around the UK and I was lucky enough to see it at the Leicester Square Theatre in West End. The venue is big enough to feel like a proper West End theatre, yet just the perfect size for that cosy intimate feel. As we sat comfortably, the show unveiled before us, giving the audience a remarkable, succinct and hilarious take on Shakespeare’s scripts and sonnets. All in the space of just 97 minutes.

But how, pray tell, is that even possible? Gary Fannin, Matthew Pearson and Matt Rippy managed to fit it all in with a combination of skits, jumping about onstage stage and super speedy sonnet recitals. The fourth wall was non-existent as constant interaction with the audience engaged us and made us all feel a part of the action. While they may have performed this a multitude of times, the play still felt fresh, funny and original.

To give an example of what the show entailed, after a comedy introduction, Fannin, Pearson and Rippy parody Romeo and Juliet in hilarious satirical costumes with synchronised prancing and exaggerated emotion. Next, the gory tragedy of Titus Andronicus was spoofed in the version of a cooking show, symbolic of the feeding of the villain to his mother. Rapping in terrible Scottish accents for Macbeth and a 45-second-long Hamlet followed as we laughed out loud.

This kind of show may not appeal to some serious Shakespeare lovers, who like to observe the Bard’s work with all the intensity and emotion with which it was intended. However, other serious Shakespeare lovers will embrace it completely for the vaudeville style extravaganza that it is, while identifying with the Bard’s work and enjoying the caricature it has been turned into. And what of those not so serious about Shakespeare, or indeed completely unfamiliar with him? Well what an incredible way of getting insight into his works. Those that feel the Bard is undecipherable and tedious will certainly change their minds as the trio and the rest of their troupe explain his works cleverly in true comical fashion. I myself have resolved to get through a reading of Titus Andronicus as a result.

The show was timed perfectly to seem completely improvised and the performers looked to be having a great time onstage. It was obvious that some hard work had been put in to revising and adapting it to the present, with references to social media and search engines that didn’t exist when I first saw the show. The other good thing about this show is that it appeals to every age. I loved it, the youngster seated next to me loved it, the elderly man at the bar ordering whisky at the interval loved it. It’s not hard to see why this has proved such a success thus far.

Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) (revised) runs at the Leicester Square Theatre until 17th August 2013.
Box office 08448 733433 or book online at http://www.leicestersquaretheatre.com/whats-on/theatre

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