The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) - Meraki Arts Bar
Presented by Precipice Creative. Directed by Madeleine Withington. Written by Adam Long, Daniel Singer, and Jess Winfield.
Reviewed by Justin Clarke
Meraki Arts Bar, Darlinghurst Until Sunday 22nd April
- If music be the food of love for Shakespeare, 'The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)' should play on -
I make it no secret that my love for William Shakespeare is as bountiful as the multitude of words and characters he introduced into the English language. William and I are so accustomed to each other that we’re now on nickname basis. Turning to my theatre buddy for the evening I pointed to the large red book plastered with his face in the middle of the Meraki mainstage and said, “There’s old Bill,” to which I received an inquisitive and confused look. “Thou hast no more brain than I have in mine elbows,” was what was best to reply. It was this pre-show giddiness that was then reflected in the production’s silliness that made The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) a largely enjoyable evening, at the expense of my good friend Bill.
As with most underground smash hits (read: Six the Musical, Fleabag, The Play That Goes Wrong) The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) started its lengthy life at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. The writers Adam Long, Daniel Singer, and Jess Winfield, put all of Shakespeare’s plays front and centre, prepared to parody each and every one over the course of 75-minutes with only three actors. The fourth wall is eradicated, the actors usually perform as heightened versions of themselves, and the Bard’s context is prepared to take a beating as the actors cover Shakespeare’s 37 plays from the heavy hitters (Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet take up the largest portion) to the unknowns (be honest, who has read Troilus and Cressida?).
Photos by Clare Hawley
Director Madeleine Withington takes the most pleasure in pushing her actors to the extremes in their parodying of Shakespeare’s works. Alexander Spinks, Lib Campbell and Tel Benjamin eat up the intimate mainstage of the Meraki Arts Bar as they shift from taking on the larger than life characters such as Hamlet, Macbeth and Julius Caesar throughout. With a heavy reliance on improvisation, the actors are more than able to rise to this challenge - Spinks in particular has a strong hand in quickly working in small mishaps to his lines.
Withington’s vision and Rachel Scane’s production design places this abridged performance in a locker room of a gymnasium. The idea of the performance being like a sport is not fully realised until a brief, but energetic journey through the history plays. The War of the Roses is watered down to football and basketball games as each of the Kings compete for their championship crown. It’s a fun part of the production, but otherwise not implemented throughout for the lens to make much sense in the overall aesthetic of the show.
The silliness in the Bard’s works takes front and centre here
The heavy reliance on puke jokes, whilst a good gag in the overdramatisation of deaths in Shakespeare, becomes stale as it is repeated to death - pun intended. Other jokes were a soaring hit with the crowd, one cleverly written gag involved the notion of playing out Othello and the very obvious reason why this needed to be avoided. The usual nods to the Lion King and Anne Hathaway feature, as well as a tiny orange handed Claudius (any defamatory Trump references are always welcome in my book) which was a very current piece of humour that wasn’t overplayed.
If brevity is the soul of wit, and if music be the food of love for Shakespeare, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) should play on. The silliness in the Bard’s works takes front and centre here, with acknowledgements of all the -isms that feature in it, but at its heart is the truth that Shakespeare’s works, 400 years on, still have much to give.
Director: Madeleine Withington
Producers: Precipice Creative (Michael C. Howlett & Alexander Spinks)
Stage Manager: Natig Baghoumian
Production Designer: Rachel Scane
Lighting Designer: Joe Cox
Movement Co-ordinator: Diego Retamales
Alex: Alexander Spinks
Janet: Lib Campbell
Nick: Tel Benjamin