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The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) – Review

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)Question for you; what do rap music, cookery shows, Boris Johnson, a severed (baked) head, Game Of Thrones, cross-dressing, sock puppets and Star Wars all have in common?

The answer, surprisingly enough, is Shakespeare. Well, in the slightly unusual collective mind of Burn Bright Theatre anyway.

Armed with nothing but a weighty volume of the collected works of the bard and a Mary Poppins-esque trunk full of ropy props, three courageous actors set about the Herculean task of performing all 37 of Shakespeare’s plays in under two hours. Impossible, you say? Not a bit of it. With a sprinkle of determination, a big slosh of humour and a huge pinch of liberty-taking, the enthusiastic trio manage to do just that.

After a brief introduction and an alarmingly original assault on Romeo and Juliet, we then feel absurdly guilty for laughing at the blood-soaked horror that is Titus Andronicus. There is barely time to recover before we are whirled at breakneck speed through an amalgamation of all of the comedies (as the actors point out, they’re all basically the same story anyway).

More time is given to the tragedies (they’re funnier anyway), which gives the actors a chance to get their teeth into some superlative melodrama and protracted, sword-under- the-armpit deaths. Macbeth is there, complete with the witches (or witch, anyway), Julius Caesar is updated for the modern political scene (Et tu, Boris?), and the audience is recruited for some exhilarating primal screaming in Othello. Although initially resistant to the idea of Hamlet (“there are too many words!”), the cast do great justice to this epic tragedy. The Prince of Denmark has never been madder, and the play within a play is a ridiculous delight.

Although some basic knowledge of the plays is useful for the in-jokes, Burn Bright Theatre have adapted the texts with so many modern cultural references that there is plenty to enjoy even if, by some miracle, you have never heard of William Shakespeare. To be honest, the main pleasures of the show are the clever writing and the brilliant performances from the cast. Danielle Winter morphs adorably from lovelorn Romeo to creepy hag to strutting Laertes, Joseph Emms twitches manically as the frustrated Shakespearean scholar and Chris Whotton veers from laconic disinterest to fervent enthusiasm in a series of marvellous wigs and skirts which suit him much better than they should.

Katherine Timms’ direction is deceptively chaotic, while actually being slickly professional. Crucially for a show with so much audience participation she gives the cast their heads, allowing them the freedom to interact and improvise while at the same time keeping them on a loose rein and ensuring that the show always veers back round to roughly where it should be.

The overall impression is one of fun, enthusiasm, energy, warmth and a deep-rooted love of the works they mock so mercilessly. In this year of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, this production is by far the most fitting tribute I have seen. Congratulations to all involved; a triumph.

5 Star Rating

Review by Genni Trickett

Shakespeare, But Shorter:
Revival of Reduced Shakespeare Company’s Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) hits the London Fringe.
As the UK gears up for celebrations of William Shakespeare’s fourth centenary, critically acclaimed theatre company Burn Bright Theatre revive one of London’s longest-running comedies.

Originally written in 1987 by Daniel Singer, Jess Winfield and Adam Long – collectively known as the Reduced Shakespeare Company – The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) continues to tour worldwide, spawning multiple other ‘abridged’ shows and remains London’s longest-running West End comedy after a nine-year run at the Criterion Theatre.

The show marks a welcome return to revivals for Burn Bright Theatre after the success of their debut production Vernon God Little at East London’s the Space last year. The adaptation of DBC Pierre’s classic novel received critical and audience acclaim and remains the venue’s best selling show to date. On choosing The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) as the company’s next three-week run, director Katherine Timms said:

“Burn Bright Theatre has a commitment to making theatre accessible to all, and for us, this show is a way of introducing Shakespeare to new audiences. There’s slapstick comedy, rap, live music and plenty of the fast-paced ensemble work we’ve become known for. For existing Shakespeare fans, it’s everything you could hope for – for those who feel Shakespeare ‘isn’t for them’, we hope it’ll be an exciting insight into how relevant his work is today.”
The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) plays at the Bread & Roses Theatre in Clapham from 24th May – 11th June 2016.

Burn Bright Theatre
The Bread and Roses Theatre, Clapham
68 Clapham Manor Street, London SW4 6DZ
Dates 24th May – 11th June 2016
Time 7:30pm (running time approx. 120 mins inc interval)
Tickets £12/10


  • Genni Trickett

    Genni is one of the senior reviewers for LondonTheatre1.com, contributing regularly with reviews for London and regional shows. Genni has been passionate about theatre from an early age, performing in various productions throughout school and university. She is currently an enthusiastic member of an amateur dramatic society in South West London. Her favourite thing about living in London is the breath-taking variety of shows and theatrical talent. https://www.facebook.com/genevieve.trickett

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