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Review: Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged)

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Published 14 April 2011

The Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged) at the New Red Lion Theatre pairs the shuddering mediocrity of Butlins style ‘ents’, with the niggling feeling that you’re watching a bunch of drama freshers tanked on cheap cider. Oh, and there’s a bit of Shakespeare in it too.

Ok, so nobody swallowed a goldfish, ran naked down a corridor or accidentally weed in a shoe. But they may as have done in this tooth-grindingly amateur production which was flimsy on the Pericles and OTT on the pantomime.

Just to make it clear, I didn’t set out to slate this one. I’ve been meaning to check out the Islington fringe theatre scene for some time, so it was with an earnest enthusiasm that I approached the New Red Lion, a pub-come-performance venue just around the corner from Angel Station, showing a rendition of one of the most relentlessly successful comedies of all time.

James McNicholas, Owen Roberts and Lucy Woolliscroft, three self-confessed recent graduates trying to make it in theatre, race through all of Shakespeare’s plays at breakneck speed and knock off a few poems whilst they’re at it. (I should note that I later discovered from an insider that they the whole ‘student’ thing was put on as a joke: their university years are actually well behind them!). How do they manage the feat? Well, for time’s sake most of the Bard’s plays are skipped or skimmed with a ruthless axe of judgement which is humorous, at least, in its complete lack of discretion. All of the comedies are squashed together in a bizarre and nonsensical animation, and the history plays are, well, ‘played’ out on an imaginary rugby pitch.

The few that are remaining are performed using a range of theatrical mediums. Othello is rendered as a rather exceptional rap, complete with beatboxing; Titus Andronicus is brought up to date as an utterly inspired episode of the F-Word (spookily good); Macbeth is performed in thick Scottish accents which are supposed to be funny in their own right; and Romeo and Juliet is enacted in the most histrionic manner manageable, complete with a loyal version of Des’ree’s ‘Kissing You’. One of my favourite of their reinterpretations was Hamlet, which involved ten minutes of audience participation as we divided ourselves into thirds to represent Ophelia’s id, ego and superego. I found myself having to shout, ‘Stop shitting around Hamlet, my biological clock is ticking, I want babies now!’ Weird but true.

These witty takes on Shakespeare certainly take steps to redeem the production, but are far too thin on the ground to wrestle it away from being a generally poor show.

I know I’m probably looking a touch snooty but, please, refrain from throwing your beer and pork scratchings at me. I like entertainment to be a bit ramshackle and ad lib from time to time, but spontaneity only works when the performers in question have genuine talent to offer. These guys did not. Their idea of really funny was putting on a wig, screaming, running really fast around the room, and quite spectacularly intentionally, falling over. Sans Shakespearian relevance. There was simple too much chatting inanely, bickering and procrastinating between sketches to justify paying for a ticket, and their repeated claim to have not ‘prepared’ properly wasn’t funny. They hadn’t.

The Complete Works of Shakespeare Abridged has faint glimmers of brilliance, but is clouded by juvenile humour which truly takes the audience for granted. An opportunity missed. Bring earplugs.

The Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged)
Venue: New Red Lion Theatre, 271-273 City Rd, London EC1V 1LA
Nearest Station: Angel Tube Station

Show Times: Wed-Sun 7.30pm, Sat and Sun Mats 3.30pm
Runs Until: 7th May 2011
Prices: From £10 to £16

Booking Tel: 0844 412 4307
Buy tickets online: www.redliontheatres.co.uk/the-complete-works-of-william-shakespeare-abridged.htm