The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)

ANNA SHEINMAN has a laugh, with caveats.

Abi Tedder Ben Kavanagh complete works of william shakespeare abridged jessie wyld marlowe society Shakespeare vomit Will Seaward

ADC Theatre, 13th-16th October, 11pm, £5-7

Directed by Ben Kavanagh


The Reduced Shakespeare Company’s cheeky script is, to the surprise of many, over 20 years old now, and it remains an old favourite of mine. As the youngest of three I was forced to listen to it on audio tape (remember those?) on long car journeys through the wet English countryside during family holidays, over and over, until the spool broke and the tape got all tangled up. Aged 6 or 7 I had no idea why my Dad thought Titus Andronicus was an amusing name for a cookery show, or why my brother had learned by heart a gangsta rap called ‘Othello’, but for the sake of family relations, I laughed along.

See? They put a hat on him.

Yes boys and girls, you heard me: a gangsta rap. Of Othello. For the uninitiated, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) is a rundown of all the Bard’s plays, at great speed, with novelty props. The histories are done as an American football game, Ophelia’s id, ego and superego are represented through mass audience participation, and the cast for Romeo & Juliet is bulked out with a sex doll.

This particular production of the three man show can only be described as a mess. Utterly shambolic. But seriously funny. The line up was something of a Cambridge Greatest Hits, to the extent that the audience cheered when Hagrid-like Will Seaward (of Bouncy Castle Macbeth at the Edinburgh Fringe fame) walked on stage. Will’s famously expressive face: from dead fish, eye balls bulging, to knowing lothario in a blink, and booming voice could carry any play.

Alumna Abi Tedder, however, needs no support. Anyone that can carry off a neon tutu  is alright in my book. A well timed wink had one audience member quite literally on the floor. Sadly Jessie Wyld, the third part of the ensemble, was woefully miscast; a talented actor but too straight for this sort of barely contained madness. Happily the representation of Cleopatra’s emetic reaction to asp ingestion (the front three rows of the audience being coated in fake sick) was one of several moments distracting me from this incongruity.

There is a ‘but’. It was under-rehearsed. Well, I hope for their sakes that was what it was, because lines were forgotten, props mislaid, and I may have been mistaken but I didn’t always have the sense that the actors were sure what was coming next.  Director Ben Kavanagh made a questionable choice by getting the actors to adopt the names (and possibly personas?) of the original writers of the show. As a result it wasn’t always clear when an actor was being themselves, acting an actor, or in part. Follow? The opening set pieces on Shakespeare’s life and writings were a little pantomimetic. The final play, Hamlet, done in short version, very short version, almost instantaneously, and backwards, dragged somewhat as the clocks struck half past midnight.

These are minor caveats. A timeless script was made current with some decent Nick Clegg banter and a well placed reference to the party scene in Baz Lurhmann’s Romeo + Juliet.

It wasn’t perfect, but the production was staged with such irreverent abandon, sense of fun, and warmth, that all was forgiven. (Well, bar one star.) With such well established actors, a surefire script and an audience already on side it wasn’t going to be rocket science to get a few laughs, but that wasn’t what the evening was about, it was about having a laugh. Which incidentally, I did.