The alternative RSC’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s works might more succinctly be titled
This fast-paced, whistle-stop tour through the most hackneyed lines in Shakespeare reduces too much.
The audience is asked variously to boo the villain, groan at puns (‘Breaking Bard’ received a particularly loud one), and help set the scenes by interacting with props like blue fabric tempests. The excuse given is that young Shakespeare wrote a long lost work foreshadowing his later texts: Joseph, James, and Matthew are to give us a snapshot of this masterpiece by multi-roling all the parts. The most enjoyable sketches within the show include dialogues between famous characters - Ariel sparring with Puck, Lady Macbeth urging Hamlet ‘to be’, Richard III serenading Beatrice (‘not as a villain, but a vaudevillian’ - eliciting another delighted groan from the audience).
It’s a highly polished show. The most impressive aspect is the effortlessness with which the three performers pass multiple characters’ costumes and traits between each other. Making deft use of the ‘makeshift painted backdrop’, the three weave in and out of two doors at the back with remarkable dexterity (and kudos to stage manager Ashleigh for assisting these lightning changes.) The trio’s performances are always slick: so slick in fact, that when they profess to improvise or fluff their lines, it rings false. They often charm the audience, and give the appearance of enjoying being on stage with each other, but the cynic in me can’t help but suspect that their corpsing is rehearsed.
The Reduced Shakespeare Company, somewhat ironically, usually performs a longer version of this production. Indeed, the overall feeling was that this both ‘Reduced’ and ‘Abridged’ show had been abbreviated one too many times. Lines were batted between the three performers at breakneck speed, and the whole show felt at a single, fast-forward pace. Perhaps when the performers are not confined by the Edinburgh one-hour time slot, they are able to enjoy more variety. The RSC’s own narrative felt truncated – it was difficult to follow what was going on between leads Puck and Ariel, and it was carried along only by sharp tech and costume changes. So much had been shortened that any remaining flab particularly stood out. The least successful moments were those where the trio performed chunks of Shakespeare’s plays without significant alteration: A Midsummer Night’s Dream’s rude mechanicals, for example, left the audience waiting for added punchlines that did not appear.
Supposedly 17-year-old Shakespeare wrote the long lost script for this play. The RSC’s production does feel like sixth-form boys parodied their A-level texts, but then staged it with professional performers. The overall effect is silly and fun, but, as they say themselves, ‘not for the Shakespeare scholars in the room - all two of them’. Much to my shame, I admit myself one of those deplorable readers, but there was something about the overly smooth shine of the show which grated on me. This fast-paced, whistle-stop tour through the most hackneyed lines in Shakespeare reduces too much.