All the Bard's works played out in CorpusPaul Ashley with permission for Varsity

Enthusiastically launching into the undeniably ambitious task of performing (or, at least outlining) all thirty-seven of Shakespeare’s plays in ninety-seven minutes, the cast of Shakespeare: Abridged throw themselves in whole-heartedly and land triumphantly on their feet. From a Titus Andronicus cookery show spoof to Hamlet performed at 100 x speed and backwards, this is a relentless show whose only intention is to fulfil this ridiculous aim ridiculously. It is not informative (I still do not know the plot of King John) nor it is meant to be; it is an evening of high-quality silliness that is not just for the Englings in the audience.

"It is an evening of high-quality silliness that is not just for the Englings"

Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield’s book offers director Rosie Parish a lot to work with. Its complexity is the key to its comedy as the cast bombard the audience with every style of sketch and genre of Shakespeare with non-stop energy. It is clear that effective parodying and ad-libbing can only come from skilled and grounded understanding of the Bard and a self-awareness of the absurdity of the show’s concept. Parish creates a meticulously thought-out show that oozes light hearted joy; it takes skill to organise this much chaos. 

The play is, by nature, absurd. It is also not really a play but an epic of sketch comedy. The fourth wall is broken, smashed in fact, from the start by its seasonably appropriate panto-esque features: audience participation is non-negotiable. With energy dripping from all six cast members, you are in very safe, and funny, hands. Jake Burke in particular grasped the nuanced humour of making the delivery seem off-the-cuff and was undeniably likeable. Jules Coyle also demonstrated a cool control of the script as she delivered a tender and moving monologue within five minutes of a one-man puppet show. You do not know what is around the corner with a show like this, all that you can do is strap in and enjoy the ride. 

"The play is, by nature, absurd"

The greatest triumph of Shakespeare: Abridged is in its controlled chaos. Set behind a front of unserious and chaotic parody (think: the rude mechanicals from A Midsummer Night’s Dream) is a rock solid base of competence, professionalism and complexity. This show is at its best when the glimmers of rehearsal undermine the artificial spontaneity. For example, satisfying moments of perfect synchronised movement and speech compliment the mayhem and served to remind the audience that the cast remain firmly in control of the absurdity. 

This show, originally written for three actors, has been increased to a cast of six. Not only does this share the responsibilities and allow for more chemistry amongst the cast members, but it also helped maintain momentum and fill the stage of the notoriously difficult space of the Corpus Playroom. The actors were all equally strong and undeniably talented as they bounced off one another. That being said, the increased cast size in the limited space meant that occasionally there was too much manic energy on stage and the comedy of the script was reduced to shouting. Considering this (as stated) ninety-seven minute play ran closer to eighty minutes, the show would have benefitted from everyone taking a deep breath and relying on the material to be funny without a consistently shouted and shrill delivery. In this respect, the play would perhaps be better performed in an outdoor space, or performed in the later slot so the audience could watch with a drink in hand.

 "Shakespeare: Abridged squeezed humour out of every element of theatre"

With no set but plenty of props and wigs, Shakespeare: Abridged squeezed humour out of every element of theatre. The lighting, designed by Hillary Qiu, was the silent hero of the production, matching the pace of the action well and even becoming the punchline in some cases (how else, except for a dramatic lighting change, would Hamlet be able to move from day to night in one line?). 


Mountain View

A Long Apprenticehood Review

Overall The Complete Works of Shakespeare: Abridged laughs at itself and Shakespeare. It gives the ADC’s Dick Whittington a run for its money in terms of camp over the top humour in what is essentially Shakespeare: The Panto. 

The Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged) is showing at the Corpus Playrooms from the 28th Nov-2nd December at 19:00