FLIP SEAT FRINGE – THE COMPLETE WORKS OF WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE (ABRIDGED)
The players run us through Romeo & Juliet first – a strategic start since everyone knows the story and it is Shakespeare’s most universally understood play. Owen Roberts narrates and directs from the side of the stage, while Lucy Woolliscroft and James McNicholas act the parts, cross-dressing, nipple-flashing and romping all the way. McNicholas’ over-the-top Romeo is the first sign that the show will be outrageous and hilarious at the same time. He is upstaged only by his own interpretation of Juliet’s nurse.
The action leaps into a modern interpretation of Shakespeare’s attempt at Tarantino, Titus Andronicus, and then makes a go at Othello before realising that the lack of a black cast member makes it difficult. It is not clear whether their attempt is made with tongue in cheek when they land on the idea of using the most stereotypically black form to portray the Moor’s story. Nevertheless, Othello becomes a rap. Misguided or not, the rap is still very funny, not least because it is performed in Renaissance costumes.
The show is nothing if not self-reflexive. The players talk to the audience and what they are doing and why – hence an explanation that they’ve done too much tragedy and must go to the comedies for a while. Their approach to the 16 comedy plays is novel and perhaps even audacious, underpinned as it is by the fact that all 16 stories bear striking resemblances to other texts in the Renaissance canon – and each other.
Next up is Macbeth, but he doesn’t get nearly enough of an outing. Brevity is the watchword in this show, so we can let them off, but it would have been fun to see a comedic interpretation of the banquet scene or Lady Macbeth’s scheming and madness. Perhaps there are not enough opportunities for the lady to scream, for that is one of Woolliscroft’s main talents. This itself is woven into the text of the play, as the other two actors chastise her for screaming in every part she portrays. Further, she has to act rather stupid while the two men roll their eyes and tut. It is not quite clear why, out of all the characters the writers could have chosen for the actors to play ‘as themselves’, that the female is a dunce. She could have still been as funny, raucous and loud as an over-enthusiastic drama school graduate.
By the end of the first half, the actors have abridged and performed all but one of Shakespeare’s plays. “But let’s skip it,” says Woolliscroft. “Shakespeare didn’t even write Hamlet.” The others try to cajole her into spending the entire second half on this one play, but she thinks it’s too hard. “You don’t have to do it justice,” one of them tells her. “You just have to do it.” It is a slyly funny line, delivered with an excellent expression to hint that there are plenty of other productions of Hamlet, much more serious than this one, that have failed. Shakespeare followers will probably have seen one or two in their time, and will appreciate this in-joke, one of many scattered throughout this loving production.
With plenty of audience participation, more screaming and the recurrence of a very clever device, the show puts the ‘ham’ back into Hamlet and raises the roof. This very abridged Shakespeare is hilarious and the performances are creative, dynamic and perfected.
For Shakespeare veterans, it’s a wild interpretation littered with references. And for newbies, it’s your chance to see all his plays in one night!
The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) is at the New Red Lion Theatre until 7th May