In writing a review about a play as deliriously madcap, comically adept, and audience-engaged as The Complete Works of Shakespeare Abridged, I’m faced with nearly a daunting task as condensing the multitude of Shakespeare’s plays into a mere two-hours (but time well spent).
So let me say it straight out: the play is nothing less than comedy gold. Miss it at your peril!
The story is this: a few actors of Shakespeare, who therefore know their stuff, decided to create a kind of condensed version of the plays that would focus on all the keen stuff and omit the less amusing bits. Or that was the idea. The result is a hilarious mash-up of Shakespeare with a variety of props, accents, and modern ideas. Much of the fun comes from a trio of actors who interchange parts. The play quickly became a runaway hit and, oddly enough, hardly diminished Shakespeare’s star. Shakespeare remains as purely, regally, Shakespearean as ever.
But we must get to the play. Based on the audience’s reaction, it’s unlikely few will be seeing any theatre as remotely funny anytime soon.
Without giving too much away, some of the highlights of the evening seemed to me “The Scottish play” (I see you Macbeth), Romeo and Juliet, (and all maidens having a penchant for dry-heaving) and the heightened anticipation of, and enactment, of Hamlet (or, shall we say, “helmet”) — all obvious crowd favorites, not to mention the several moments of audience participation.
But ultimately, in a play that gives so much leeway to its performers, the quality of improv matters. It is here where some of the local color – “when in Rome” for example – and individual physical movements matter most.