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Classic! – Pleasance Courtyard – Edinburgh Fringe

The theatre company that the characters in the show are in is facing closure, but somewhat bizarrely, it could be saved if it successfully summarises, on stage, precisely forty-two novels in the space of an hour. Time is already ticking as they’ve spent a moment or two introducing themselves, and then, as though they hadn’t understood the brief, there are (relatively, given the time constraints) lengthy dramatisations of less than half a dozen books. Your reviewer even found himself playing one of several characters in Wuthering Heights who fell ill and died.

Classic! Credit Grant Archer.
Classic! Credit Grant Archer.

As people who have seen the Reduced Shakespeare Company’s production The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged), will testify, the thirty-seven plays largely considered to be written by Shakespeare (there’s some disagreement on that point, with Wikipedia claiming thirty-nine in the Bard’s canon, but that’s another discussion for another time) are summarised in one show by rushing through a large percentage of them at breakneck speed, with the mere mention of Henry VI being divided into three parts considered to be sufficient coverage of Henry VI Parts I, II and III.

In short, Classic! does something very similar. I won’t give everything away (because I can’t remember everything) but the silliness is ramped up to the hilt when someone loses their temper at a bunch of grapes, and a toy mockingbird is ‘shot’ (inverted commas mine) dead. It helps to have some knowledge of the novels – having never read War and Peace, the executive summary was rather lost on me. If I had to pick a favourite, it would probably be the silent movie treatment afforded to Pride and Prejudice.

Before going into the show, I wondered if this would be sublime or chaotic – it turned out to be sublimely chaotic. Robin Simpson was the stand-out for me, playing some of his characters with great reluctance, particularly the rear half of a horse. Ultimately, though, the play demonstrates the power of teamwork. It was an exhausting watch, but in a good way, as the sheer physicality in a necessarily brisk production is almost jaw-dropping. A lively hour of light-hearted literary laughs.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Classic! is set around a group of actors coming together to break a record for the most novels ever shared on stage. In doing that, they share the stories in extremely unexpected ways: Moby Dick becomes a sea shanty, Jane Eyre is a silent movie, Oliver Twist is a film noir and Black Beauty a pantomime… and that’s just scratching the surface!

The show has music by Louis Ashton Butler and musical direction from Joe Clayton and features a brilliant cast comprising of Louis Blair, Althea Burey, Amy Drake, Amy Gavin, Robin Simpson and Gareth Tempest.

Listings information:
Pleasance Courtyard, Pleasance One (Venue 33)
3-28 Aug 2022

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