Reduced Shakespeare Company reinvent the Bard

Reduced Shakespeare Company 2 - photocredit, Karl Andre

It was with great excitement that I attended the recent production of ‘The Complete Works of Shakespeare. Abridged [Revised]’ which promised to deliver all 37 of Shakespeare’s plays in just 97 minutes. I have been wanting to see this production for some time, having heard great reviews from others who had witnessed this theatrical feat. I was most intrigued to see how it was done!

Firstly, I must applaud the mix of Shakespearean prose with modern references and slang terminology. For those fearing this would be a stuffy production aimed at the most avid Shakespeare lovers, then please think again. This was a witty mix of reverence and mockery.

We are introduced to the players who are three brash Americans, who want to engage more audiences with Shakespeare. The show starts off with Romeo and Juliet, plucking out the general gist of the story and performing the most famous speeches. However, Juliet is played by a man in an ill-fitting dress and bad wig! The whole show is performed by just these three men, with limited set and props and basic costume changes to denote different characters. There are many points where they break character and make sure the audience are in on the joke. This has been clearly drilled and rehearsed, as they managed to keep the audience entertained and maintained the flow of the show throughout.

The cast soon realise they took almost 12 minutes to perform Romeo and Juliet and attempt to further abridge the rest of the plays. All the histories are lumped together and performed as an American Football game for the crown, with each player being a different king. It was also decided that the general plot for all the comedies was the same, where there were cross-dressing twins who fell in love with nobles and someone else fell in love with a donkey. All the comedies were therefore mixed together and performed as one. Further reductions were made to cover the Sonnets and other tragedies, some being covered by simply being mentioned.

The true magic is saved for Hamlet. This is also performed in the comedic abridged style and takes about seven minutes. They then perform it again in two minutes, again in reverse and again in ten seconds. This was the highlight of the show for me, as I believe it gives an insight in to the devising and rehearsal process. It shows how they chose the most relevant scenes to use and stripped them down to their bare bones. They then see how much more can be stripped away for the most comedic effect. These separate versions allow us to see this process in action.

A hilarious take on the Bard – I hope their reinvention continues to engage new audiences.



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