He’s the biggest name in theatre and one of the biggest in literature. Nearly everyone who went to an English-speaking school studied him and many more who didn’t. To celebrate the opening of the 25th anniversary season for Lane Cove Theatre Company, William Shakespeare’s work takes pride of place with his 37 attributed plays and a sonnet or two.
Originally written by three of the founding members of Reduced Shakespeare Company Adam Long, Daniel Singer, and Jess Winfield, the Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) debuted at Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 1987 before going on to run for nine years at the Criterion Theatre in London. Over the course of two acts, three actors (Logan McArthur, Eleanor Petricevic, and Luke W Shepherd) parody every play attributed to Shakespeare in a silly, fast-paced theatrical free-for-all. Some plays are reduced to passing mentions while others, like the Tragedy of Romeo & Juliet and Hamlet, receive more attention for their popularity.
The success of such an over-stuffed production relies on both the enthusiasm of the actors and of the audience who are asked to indulge the silliness and impromptu prop solutions, and even participate as Ophelia’s many layers of subconscious thought. For the Shakespeare enthusiasts, there are subtle and clever references embedded in the script while those less familiar with his plays will find great humour in excessive innuendo, great misunderstanding, and the rambunctious relationships between the three actors that inform every scene interpretation.
Director Jess Davis allows fluidity and freedom in the production through actor improvisation and a handful of helpful hints lobbed from the audience. The seemingly structureless production is more flexible than undirected and carries a sense of avid, authentic commitment from the actors who are ostensibly characterising themselves, or a specific version of themselves. At the same time, they fulfil stereotypical roles of the Shakespeare enthusiast including the pompous purist Luke, the go-with-the-flow dabbler Eleanor, and Logan who seems to have only encountered Shakespeare through Wikipedia so far.
In particular, McArthur and Petricevic portray open exuberance whether as star-crossed lovers or seasoned performers coaching audience participants through their lines. Both brought boundless energy which was infectious. Shepherd as their straight man go his moment as the ever angsty Hamlet in the second half.
It’s the kind of production that provides exactly what it says on the tin and with the anticipated high levels of joy and laughter that only such an undertaking as performing 37 plays in two hours can produce.
The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) is running at St Aidan’s from February 7th – 22nd