William Shakespeare is undoubtedly one of the most popular playwrights in Western history. With a wide variety of comedic and dramatic works to choose from, and an in-built reputation for high art and entertainment value, his plays are performed all over the world not only for the sheer love of the form, but also as guaranteed ‘bums on seats’, or ‘crowd-pleasing’ plays. And as we know, not every production is a definite hit; we’ve all seen brilliant Shakespeare, and the kind of Shakespeare that makes you wonder what the fuss is all about.
And after reviewing three not-so-brilliant Shakespeare related productions in a row, you’d think I would be a little ‘Bard-ed out’ by now. Then along came The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged), which treats The Bard with the right amount of energy, self-deprecating humour and in-jokes to remind me of my love of Shakespeare as popular entertainment for the masses, and finally, a brilliantly entertaining night out.
Presented by Cut Snake Comedy in association with Shakespeare WA, The Complete Works… is a riotous and energetic production, which combines ‘years of combined Shakespearean acting experience, improvisation and pop culture references’ to excellent effect. You see Titus Andronicus as a MasterChef inspired cooking show (complete with an acutely observed George Calombaris impersonation), Othello as a rap and the History Plays as an AFL match, interspersed with readings from the original plays.
The script, if it can be called that, was both a love letter and self-deprecating dissection of the works of Shakespeare. It’s not really a complete recitation of the canon; but a ‘best of’ guide that rips into the plays and explores them in a basic pop-culture form so they become ‘more accessible’ to a modern audience. You did need a good understanding of the plays, especially during the ‘highly convoluted reading’ of all sixteen comedic plays combined. However, the fun and cheek of the comedy sketches carried you through even if you didn’t catch all the references. What they did remind you is Shakespearean performances should be fun and were the popular culture of their time; for all its political intrigue and back-stabbing, the dramatic and gore-filled Titus Andronicus would be the historical equivalent of the Saw film series.
The success of this show lies primarily with the performers, Sam Longley, Damon Lockwood and Sean Walsh. Together, they shared a wonderful camaraderie, gift for comedy and sense of fun. Standouts include Longley as the alcoholic Queen Gertrude and Walsh as a Steve Irwin inspired Hamlet. It seemed they made themselves laugh as frequently as they made the audience laugh, and their joy and energy spread throughout the theatre.
Credit must also go to Longley for producing some fabulous dramatic speeches; his performance of Juliet, though silly, was also wonderfully clear and meaningful, and his performance of Hamlet’s ‘What a piece of work is man’ soliloquy was mesmerising. If he didn’t already have the audience in the palm of his hand, this wonderful display of his versatility would have.
Not that the audience was off limits either; frequently becoming the target of gross-out humour or jokes. This especially applied to the three rows of note-taking students in the front of the audience. Once noticed, they became the brunt of a lot of asides, with the order of ‘write that down’ frequently ad-libbed by the performers.
There were moments when the show didn’t work; you couldn’t always tell if the chaos was engineered or accidental, and after a sluggish start there were moments of slower pacing when the energy dropped. However, this was largely forgotten in the good will and compelling relationship generated between the cast and audience. You forgave them for their foibles (if any) because you were having such a wonderful time otherwise. It really was Shakespeare as it should be done; not too serious, and with the audience firmly in the palm of the performers’ hand, sharing the experience.
Cut Snake Comedy in association with Shakespeare WA present
The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)
by Adam Long, Daniel Singer, and Jess Winfield
Venue: Subiaco Arts Centre | 180 Hamersley Rd, Subiaco, Western Australia
Dates: June 10 – 18, 2011