Review: The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) by ABA Productions and The Reduced Shakespeare Company

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Ever wish you could catch all the works of the greatest playwright in the English language in a single night? The Reduced Shakespeare Company is doubtless, your answer to that, condensing all 37 of William Shakespeare’s plays into a 2-act, 97 minute play!

The Reduced Shakespeare Company (cheekily abbreviated to the RSC) is no newbie to the scene: armed with a 37 year history, the RSC has received critical acclaim for each and every one of their stage shows, along with their numerous TV and radio specials. If you were in London in the late 90s/early 2000s, you might even have caught them at the Criterion Theatre in Piccadilly Circus, where their first three shows, including The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) ran for nine years as London’s longest running comedies!

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So it’s no wonder that it’s an honour to be receiving them once again in Singapore, making a triumphant return with an old but gold favourite. Written by Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) comes armed with a smart, witty script that reduces Shakespeare to his most essential parts and will take audiences on a roller coaster ride from his beginnings in Titus Andronicus all the way to his final words with The Tempest, covering each Comedy, every Tragedy, the most forgotten of Histories and even his sonnets.

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Hosting us for the night were the show’s three actors: Jeff Marlow, Tiger Reel and Dan Saski. As the curtains were raised, the actors began with a brief, slightly inaccurate history of the life and times of Shakespeare, playing up obviously wrong facts (or fake news) for laughs, effectively and hilariously weaving in true facts with humorous fiction.

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Besides the Bard’s minor plays, the team of course, sped through some of his most famous works as well. Romeo and Juliet was slashed to just 12 minutes, with the trio trimming the fat and most of the minor characters to plow through its plot, yet still capturing the essence of the original, while iambic pentameter entered the modern world in the form of a rap performance that drew bemused laughs from the audience as they rapped the plot of Othello. Meanwhile for the cursed ‘Scottish Play’ (Macbeth), the cast adopted realistic, well-enunciated Scottish accents, hamming up the speech to really ground the play’s setting up in the highlands. 

Just when you think they’ve exhausted every single work in the first half, the trio gave a timely reminder that they had yet to do Shakespeare’s most iconic (and one of his longest) work: Hamlet, reserved for the entirety of the second half of the show. A running joke throughout this abridged version was the cast’s constant mispronunciation of our protagonist’s name as ‘Helmet’, leading to plenty of giggles from the audience.  To be or not to be? That isn’t the question you should be asking; instead, you should be wondering just why haven’t you seen Shakespeare done with such lighthearted gusto before, and perhaps, will even get you to appreciate his works even better.

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These were actors who obviously knew what they were doing; The Complete Works of William Shakespeare was heavy on the audience participation but the cast easily connected with them in their interaction, poking fun at them whenever they laughed really loudly, or came in late. The simple set really put all the attention on the three of them, and no doubt they handled the spotlight with aplomb, with pitch perfect pacing and elegant, swift costume changes (kudos to wardrobe supervisor Alli Bostedt), yet their signature colourful converse sneakers stayed on throughout the entire show, making it clear that even within the dated context of Shakespeare, the RSC was going to keep the tone light and modern.

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The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) is certainly not one for Shakespeare purists, as the cast takes apart some of his most famous lines and plots and shakes it all up by setting the speed to maximum. On the night we attended, the audience consisted of a good, regular theatregoing crowd, many of whom understood what was going on and caught most of the inside jokes. We thought that the show was one of the freshest takes on Shakespeare we’ve seen, and even if you won’t get the full English experience, you’ll certainly be walking out of the theatre, surprisingly enough, a little more educated and certainly entertained. The RSC has succeeded at creating a foolproof, riotous barrel of laughs that’ll brighten up anyone’s day (definitely comparable to a summer’s day) and an unforgettable night out.

Photo Credit: The Reduced Shakespeare Company

Performance attended 27/9/17

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) plays at the SOTA Drama Theatre till 1st October. Tickets available here

 

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