March 31, 2011

Quick gallop through the Bard is full of laughs

March 31, 2011

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)
By Adam Long, Daniel Singer, and Jess Winfield
State Theatre Company of South Australia
Dunstan Playhouse, Adelaide Festival Centre.
March 30. Tickets $ 29 – $59. Bookings : BASS 131 246
Until April 16.

When Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield, the original members of the RSC (Reduced Shakespeare Company) played their madcap cut-down version of the Complete Works of William Shakespeare at the Edinburgh Fringe in 1987 they thought it would be its final hurrah. Instead, its popularity grew exponentially. It went on to a nine year run at the Criterion Theatre on London and has become an international comedy staple. First playing at the Perth and Adelaide Festivals in 1992, there have been frequent revivals in Australia and now artistic director Adam Cook has chosen the Come Out young people’s festival as occasion for the State Theatre Company to add it to its 2011 list.

It has to be said, that in more than twenty years, a lot has permanently shifted in the Bard business and the popularity of Shakespeare (like that of Jane Austen) is less in dispute than at almost any time. The Shakepeare of fusty costume and beautifully articulated twaddle, of silly beards and clunky fight scenes is a dim memory- especially in Australia where more has been done than almost anywhere to freshen the texts and give them currency. So while Cook says the impulse to include the show was because many think Shakespeare is “inaccessible and elitist” there is a sense that even when first performed The Complete Works was lampooning a style and approach which was already archaic.

That’s no reason not to have some fun however, and the energetic cast navigate the full-tilt exposition of 37 plays without even pausing to gasp. Stand-up veteran Damien Callinan has a relaxed slow burn to his comedy which is a joy to watch and, dressed in an iridescent doublet and hose with a rampant peacock (named Brendan) as a codpiece, he is a constant source of mirth – whether as Polonious in Adelaide Crows regalia on a mobility scooter, or playing Laertes in Biggles headgear.

Mark Saturno provides the velvety voice-overs, the spoofs of American Method, the Titus cooking show, and a droll parody of Laurence Olivier in the second half’s extended Hamlet. And the versatile, elastic Nathan O’Keefe with an array of funny faces and accents from Glasgow to Valley Girlish, moves from one hilarious incarnation to another – Juliet, Macbeth, Hamlet, Cleopatra. The works.

Adam Cook, with designer Ailsa Paterson’s brightly coloured comedy cart and Stuart Day’s wacky music, has produced plenty of rapid-fire, topical, enjoyable fun. But as it ran longer and the versions of Hamlet multiplied, we paused to hear O’Keefe perform the “What a piece of work is a man” speech with a straight bat. It was meant to be a showy moment and it was. But it also reminded us that, after two hours this was all, perhaps, abridged too far.

Murray Bramwell

“Quick gallop through the Bard is full of laughs” The Australian, April, 2011, p.15

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