The Reduced Shakespeare Company’s seminal play has become a classic fringe piece due to its small cast, fast comic pacing, and easy adaptability to a range of theatrical spaces. While it might turn up frequently on the circuit, its familiarity does not mean it is an easy piece to pull off. Burn Bright Theatre, however, hits the nail on the head with full comedic commitment to the physical and verbal humour, not to mention heavy doses of audience involvement. They do not miss a single opportunity for slapstick gold in their skilful, hilarious production. Additionally, they have certainly selected the prime venue – the Bread and Roses Theatre, upstairs in the titular pub – for the show: how better to riotously celebrate and mock the classic playwright than with drinks in hand? This ridiculous, raucous, genuinely funny performance kept the audiences’ sides hurting from start to finish and could not come more highly recommended.
The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) is exactly that – three actors set out to perform all thirty-seven plays in less than two hours. Naturally, things go wrong: the ensuring hijinks spin out of control as misguided authenticity, blatant irreverence, and misfiring props combine to create well over thirty-seven moments of hilarity. One does not need to be familiar with Shakespeare to enjoy this show immensely; the fast pacing, crowd participation, and good old-fashioned farce does more than enough to entertain. On that note, the most popular plays such as Romeo and Juliet, Othello, Macbeth, and Hamlet get the most extended jokes and scenes. Whether this is to cater to their familiarity or because, as the actors point out, the tragedies are simply funnier is anyone’s guess.
However, for those who have seen other productions of The Complete Works (Abridged), Burn Bright Theatre has updated and revised some bits of the text and performance to relate to today’s pop culture and current events, adding another layer of humour and spontaneity to the performance. These allusions ranged from the general to painfully specific: Julius Caesar parades out in a David Cameron mask (and was promptly stabbed to death by the Queen and Boris Johnson), an actor suffers a nervous breakdown over THAT death in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and the history plays become Game of Thrones (including a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it reference to THAT death from this week’s episode). The performers clearly relish capitalising on the most up-to-date jokes, even if ‘Hold the Door’ is WAY too soon after that particular heartbreak; it will be exciting to see if any new jokes are added as the run progresses.
The three actors are outstanding, bringing an endless amount of energy and commitment to the performances. Danielle Winter takes on the straight man role in the actors’ own interactions but does not lack any humour of her own when performing the butchered Shakespeare. Joseph Emms is the pedant and ‘serious actor’, and his outrage when his fellows do not share his scholarly passion is outstanding. Lastly, Chris Whotton is the awkward, reluctant one stuck in all the women’s roles; he may facilitate the top moments of audience interaction. Most importantly, none of them let the energy flag at any point. Every joke is timed perfectly and nothing is overplayed.
I have seen four different production of The Complete Works (Abridged) and this is definitely a top one. Many nights are already sold out, so act fast – Burn Bright Theatre’s show is not one to miss.
Burn Bright’s production of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) is playing at the Bread and Roses Theatre, Clapham, London SW4 6DZ until 11th June. Performances are at 7.30pm and tickets cost £12 (£10 concessions).
Cast: Danielle Winter, Joseph Emms, and Chris Whotton
Director: Katherine Timms
Producer: Isabel Dixon
Stage Manager: Melissa Berry
Technical Design: Becky Brown
Musical Director: Odinn Orn Hilmarsson