REVIEW: The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)

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Peter Buckroyd reviews The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged), The Attic Theatre, playing until 11th June

HAVING seen this show when it opened in London in a large proscenium theatre 30 years ago I was fascinated to see whether it now seemed dated, how it would work in this small theatre and whether the physical and comic timing demands it makes on the three players would stretch the resources of the Tread the Board company.

It’s a very funny show. It’s helpful to know something about Shakespeare’s plays but not essential. The topical references in the original are now dated but they have been brilliantly updated by director, Ash Baylis, and the cast and it really is a laugh a minute. From someone like me who ‘doesn’t do comedy’ this is some accolade.

John-Robert Partridge is brilliant. At his best with impeccable comic timing, extraordinary physical control, moving from knockabout slapstick to a freeze, his face a kaleidoscope of expressions and his range of mood is extraordinary, his performance is a tour de force. All three characters are clearly differentiated. James Tanton’s pompous, shallow academic, and Mark Alden-Taylor’s hilarious ghastly-wig females match Partridge wonderfully in their energy and vast range of moods and attitudes.

And this show is made for Tread the Boards and for The Attic. The intimate space gives them maximum opportunities for audience interactions, and the audience interacted with gusto the night I went: a tribute to the actors’ skill.

The show is full of ghastly puns, some of them very clever, and Baylis’s updates involve some scurrilous jokes which go delightfully above the children’s heads and entertain the smutty minded in the audience (like me) hugely. The rap Othello and the turning of Titus Andronicus into a Mary Berry cookery show are inspired. Partridge’s finger game before the interval is brilliantly executed as is the delightful Punch and Judy show for The Mousetrap.

The whole concept of having three amateurish actors cobbling together an improvised show with actors running in and out of character could not have been handled better. In among the fun and energetic silliness come some lovely moments of stillness as in Partridge’s fine rendition of Hamlet’s ‘What a piece of work is a man…’ speech.

I loved this show. Hurry up and book or you will find that they have run out of tickets. It’s that good.