A bard thing: Genesian Theatre’s The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)

This review was originally written for artsHub.

Back in 2002, my parents took twelve-year-old me to see The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) at the Glen Street Theatre. It was my first introduction to Shakespeare and while I might not have understood every joke or (palpable) hit at the Bard, I enjoyed it immensely and try to see each subsequent production of it, to remind myself of the joy in getting so caught up in something it changes the way you think. This production, at the Genesian Theatre in Sydney’s CBD, is the fifth production I’ve seen of this play, and it is every bit as silly and as enjoyable as it was thirteen years ago; as it has always been.

Created and performed by the Reduced Shakespeare Company at the Edinburgh Festival in 1987, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) takes a blow-torch to the academic fustiness that has accumulated around the Bard’s work, and gives you the history plays as a sports match, Titus Andronicus as a cooking show, and Othello as a rap song. It also boasts the (self-proclaimed) world record for the shortest-ever performance of Hamlet (at five seconds), as well as the fastest performance of Hamlet backwards, at forty-two seconds. Directed here by Tom Massey, and performed by Jessica Gray, Jamie Collette, and Barry Nielsen, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) is a light-hearted and occasionally-serious romp through all of Shakespeare’s plays and (briefly) his sonnets, clocking in at roughly ninety-seven minutes. Yet for all its silliness and coloured tights-and-Chuck Taylors, it is a rather serious commitment to unpicking the brilliant madness in the Bard’s work and it is seriously funny.
Wearing all-white doublets and trousers, coloured tights, and Chuck Taylor All Stars, the cast essentially play themselves as they romp, vomit, scream, yell, cross-dress, (vomit some more) and cavort their way through 1122 characters on a set that exposes the illusion and madness behind the fast-paced scene-changes. In almost every respect, it only makes it funnier – we see dresses and wigs being pulled on (sometimes in the wrong order), skulls and foils being thrown off-stage as they are no longer needed, and a healthy dose of old-school theatre-magic.

To describe each individual moment of mad brilliance in this play would be to detract from its fun and enjoyment. Even though The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) may not be to everyone’s taste, it is an unashamedly joyous celebration of the life of William Shakespeare, his thirty seven plays, one-hundred-and-fifty-four sonnets, and everything in between. More entertaining than four hours of Hamlet, this is one production you should take the children to.

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