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The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)

Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield
Damien Devine and Red Lion Theatres
New Red Lion Theatre
(2011)

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)

Take 90 minutes, 37 plays, 3 actors, 1 famous bard, blitz them in a theatrical blender and what do you get? An evening of pure Shakespearean fun courtesy of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged).

The Complete Works...was last seen in London in 2003 and since then has undergone somewhat of a transformation. The current team have adapted and re-worked Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield's 1987 Edinburgh festival smash to provide their 2011 audience with some wonderful contemporaneous cultural allusions whilst they hurtle through the canon.

After a somewhat lengthy prologue, we're off, and the cast of three don't stop to draw breath throughout the entire proceedings. Talented multi-rolers, they play almost each and every well-known Shakespearean character between them, aided by some comedy accents, props, capes and an array of wigs. Never were Shakespeare's words 'One man in his time plays many parts' more appropriate.

Titus Andronicus, that bloody Shakespeare tragedy, receives a televisual makeover à la Gordon Ramsey's F Word whilst all of Shakespeare's comedies, including the not so funny Tempest, are melted down into Four Weddings and a Tranny, a dark children's animation complete with donkey orgy and multiple pairings of identical twins. And as if that's not enough, it's sport for the history plays, as 'play' is taken quite literally and Shakespeare's works become a right royal rugby match.

Each of the actors adopts a particular theatrical persona (or is it an alter ego?) for the purposes of the show and throughout the evening Shakespeare's potted plays are interrupted by the cast as they bicker, fight, squabble and seek revenge, at times giving some of Shakespeare's most tragic heroes and dastardly villains a run for their money.

Although there is much delight in seeing Shakespeare's plays reimagined, reinterpreted and reduced to their bare bones, the real comedy comes from the comedic interplay between the three cast members working so tirelessly to succeed in their promise to stage all 37 of Shakespeare's plays in just under two hours. As Owen Roberts tries to bring his artistic vision to life with the help of his undergraduate dissertation, James McNicholas darts about the stage brimming with energy and passion, whilst the ever-suffering Lucy Woolliscroft just gets in their way.

Poor Woolliscroft! As the only female cast member she bears the brunt of Roberts and McNicholas' anger when things go wrong. It is always Woolliscroft who gets the blame, and no matter how hard she tries, she always manages to mess something up and embarrass them all. In her powerpoint presentation Shakespeare's wife is announced as Devil Wears Prada actress Anne Hathaway , Othello's title is misinterpreted as a place boats are tied up and Juliet's line is given new meaning when she proudly announces, 'a nose by another other name would smell as sweet.' When Woolliscroft expresses her fondness for Shakespeare's geopolitical play Chernobyl Kingsmen set in Russia, the audience could not control themselves, so witty is the writing.

With sweat pouring off the actors as they take their final bows, The Complete Works... proves an exhausting evening not only for the cast, but for the audience too. The bastard child of improv, stand up comedy, parody and panto, The Complete Works... is a complete Shakespearean delight. As the audience roar with laughter, the New Red Lion can stand proud having clawed itself a hit. Previous incarnations of The Complete Works...ran and ran, and there is absolutely no reason why director Henry Filloux-Bennett's fantastic production shouldn't do the same.

Playing until 7th May 2011

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Reviewer: Simon Sladen