Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Completely Hollywood (abridged)

Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor
Reduced Shakespeare Company
Theatre Royal, Newcastle, and touring
(2006)

Poster

Anyone who goes to see the Reduced Shakespeare Company knows exactly what to expect: a fast (almost manic) paced show, packed to the brim with one-liners (hilarious or groan-inducing), sight gags, a very physical performance style, a mulititude of references (some almost too quick to be picked up), and a healthy irreverance towards the subject. The company has its roots in street theatre where physicality is an essential and in which you have to make your point fast and hard - there's no place for subtlety when you're trying to catch the attention of people who may be in a tearing hurry to get from home to work or the shops or school, or back again.. And it (and the RSC style) requires a special kind of performer, one who combines the actor with the clown and the comedian - and who is very fit.

It also helps (back to the potential audience member) if you have a degree of familiarity with the subject. I'm not a film buff - indeed, I can count on the fingers of one hand (with one or two to spare) the number of times I actually go to the cinema in a year or even watch a film on TV, so I was at something of a disadvantage watching Completely Hollywood, especially as regards modern films - the classics, right up to spaghetti westerns and Bond films, I can manage, and even parts of Star Wars and Indiana Jones, and who can fail to have picked up something about Arnie, Robin Williams, Leonardo di Caprio and Tom Cruise et al? But I have to admit that my relative ignorance did not matter as much as I expected it to.

The plot - for a plot there is (just!) - has the three actors (Aaron Brown, David Menkin and Adam D Millard in the performance I saw) planning the production of an independent, low budget epic movie. The first half introduces us to the writer (Brown), the star (Menkin) and the director (Millard), taking time to satirise the stereotypical images of all three, and shows usthem planning the film. The second half is the film itself, which combines what seemed like every single cinematic cliché in the book with references to everything from 2001 to The Matrix, from Lucas to Tarentino, and everything in between.

The pace is fast almost throughout, varying from merely quick to totally frenetic, although wisely there are quieter moments, including some very funny use made of bringing members of the audience onto the stage, at one point a single man and then, memorably, the entire front row of the stalls (two of whom, quite unprompted, did their own send-up of Saturday Night Fever).

The first half was not quite the RSC we are used to - it felt a little forced at times and occasionally parts were drawn out a wee bit. The opening, a rather obvious send-up of the melodramatic silent movie, was a little weak, but the second half was hilarity from beginning to end.

I confess to an enormous admiration for the performers: the energy they have to expend is phenomenal, and with only three on the stage there is no hiding place.

Not the company's greatest show, perhaps (they still have not bettered their very first, the show which gave them their name), but nonetheless it is a very funny and thoroughly enjoyable romp through the USA's second biggest export (after weapons).

Philip Fisher reviewed the show at the Pleasance during last year's Edinburgh Fringe.

It plays at Newcastle until Saturday 4th February, and then tours to a further 37 venues until 29th April. For full tour dates, see their website.

Reviewer: Peter Lathan