All the Great Books (Abridged)

Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor, with additional material by Matthew Croke and Michael Faulkner
Reduced Shakespeare Company
Gala Theatre, Durham, and touting
(2004)

The great thing about the Reduced Shakespeare Company is that you know exactly what you're going to get: fast-paced comedy, a bit of slapstick, some puns, some bad jokes, some witty comment - a good laugh.

And so it is with All the Great Books (Abridged): 89 books condensed into 90 minutes, something that even the Reader's Digest wouldn't attempt! So we get all of Dickens condensed into Great Expectorations, the Iliad and the Odyssey combined to produce The Idioddity (the Trojan Horse was wonderful!), War and Peace performed page by page (page 1 followed by page 40 followed by page 100 followed by page 400 - you get the picture, I'm sure!) whilst the majority of the others get a single line (or, more often, a single gag). And, of course, there's Ullyses, which bis all done by interior monologue!

We, the audience, are a high school remedial class who have to pass World Literature to graduate and we have a 90 minute lesson in which to do it. Taught by the Drama teacher (Tim Beckman), the coach (Brian Flaherty) and an incredibly ingorant but politically correct student teacher (Matt Blair), we embark on the lesson, at the end of which we emerge with a knowledge of the names of some books, a vague idea of what some are about and aching stomachs from laughing so much.

It does need a knoweldge of the books to appreciate fully - which makes it a bit difficult sometimes for us Brits: has anyone in the UK read Thoreau? - but it isn't by any stretch of the imagination intellectually demanding, but so what? After a day of following up news stories, casting a production, trying to hammer a script into some sort of shape reading for its first reading, grocery shopping and other such stimulating activities, a good laugh was just what I needed. And that's what I got!

"All the Great Books" plays at the Gala until 13th March, then at the Roses Theatre, Tewkesbury, on 16th and 17th March.

Reviewer: Peter Lathan