Mini-Review – The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) – Reduced Shakespeare Company at Leicester Square Theater

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As regularly as revivals of Cabaret, the Reduced Shakespeare Company has returned to London with their show The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged). For all that I’ve had a million opportunities to see it, well, it’s never seemed like anything special – I mean, it’ll be back, right? But this year my housemate gave me a glowing review of her trip, and when I had a theater loving visitor in for the weekend, I decided to take advantage of a cheap ticket deal and give it a try. I mean, hey, 90 minutes, if it was bad it would practically be over already, right?

I decided to approach this show from two different angles. First, was it a fun performance? Second, did it do justice to Shakespeare in any way, or was it really just a horrible attempt to make money off of a built-in audience (like the wretched Fair Em I saw earlier this year)? We settled into our third row seats at the Leicester Square Theater (only my second visit, and my first to the main house) and waited to find out.

The good news is, this show succeeds on its most important mission: being entertaining. The three American guys that perform it have it nicely set up as a comedy routine that gently eases us into Shakespeare, starting with why he matters, then doing a bit of bio. The laughs come on early, though, before they even make it to the summaries of the plays, getting bigger and bigger as the show went on. There’s a lot of audience interaction (my favorite bit was when an actor, pretending to vomit, got right up next to a kid in the second row and said, “This sure isn’t like TV, is it? I can see you, too!”), especially during Hamlet (which takes up nearly all of the second half).

So the next question is: does it do justice to Shakespeare? Well, _I_ think it does, but in order to agree you’ll need to share my view that his various plays are not all of equal value. In fact, some of them are tedious and other simply make no sense. Reduced Shakespeare handles this nicely in a discussion of the “problem” (a.k.a. not very good) plays and a giant blob that encompasses all of the comedies. (I personally might have gone for a tighter focus on Midsummer, but I very much enjoyed seeing the samey-sameyness of most of the comedies done on the bright lights of the stage.) The histories are likewise blazed through, which, given that ol’ Bill was finding his authorial feet while writing many of them is probably for the best (a tiny, moving Godzilla toy could only add needed drama, and did).

In fact, only two plays really get much of an extended visit: Hamlet (as mentioned above) and Romeo and Juliet. Is this bad? I think not. If the plays had all been given equal attention, it would have been about 2 minutes each, and I would have nodded off. Instead, RSC (Ooh! that acronym seems familiar) took the opportunity to discuss some of the more interesting aspects of writing, performing, and interpreting Shakespeare’s work while performing the (reduced) version of these two plays – giving us much more to think about that than if we had, say, seen Measure for Measure/Two Gentlemen of Verona/All’s Well that Ends Well done back to back. Overall, this was a very successful production: both funny, informative, and just plain good theater.

(This review is for a matinee performance that took place on Saturday, August 3, 2013. It continues at the Leicester Square Theater until August 17th.)

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