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The Compleat Works of Wllm Shkspr (abridged)

Emma Lamond
Stephanie Friend
Matt Tate
The outrageous claim promised by the title of this play made me feel that perhaps, I was not to take it too seriously; more so when I discovered that it was to be carried out by an absurdly minuscule cast: three! So how exactly were Stephanie Friend, Matt Tate, and Emma Lamond going to deliver 38 plays (not to mention 154 sonnets and 5 epic poems) in around two hours?
The answer began with a madcap version of Romeo And Juliet, with a recited and mimed prologue by Matt in a girlie wig and Emma strutting about in true pantomime Principal Boy mode – a pattern of gender-swapping between these two that was to continue throughout the evening. After bouts of thumb-biting, mock-vomiting, and the quickest death of Tybalt ever seen, we were through; RoJu done and dusted in about 10 minutes. But even at this relentless rate we weren’t going to make it to Henry VIII until well into tomorrow!
Then, the gory Titus Andronicus done as a TV cookery show (what else?) with Titus and Lavinia demonstrating the best way to prepare Chiron & Demetrius Pie. At this point, it occurred to me that unless one was fairly au fait with the works of Will the Quill, a lot of the jokes were probably going to go over your head. Fortunately, there were plenty of slapstick and bad taste gags to amuse us all: Lavinia and her dad trying to ‘high five’ with handless limbs was one of my favourites!
More low-budget humour was served up in Othello, with Matt appearing with a string of toy boats entwined around his neck – misinterpreting ‘The Moor of Venice’ as a North Italian marina. The rest of the play was then performed as a Run DMC-style rap! The energy and hard work that the cast had put into the production was clearly shown here: the audience roaring with laughter as the very physical choreography and ‘attitude’ typical of the rap genre were brilliantly mimicked.
Next up was The Comedy Of Two Well-Measured Gentlemen Lost To The Merry Wives Of Venice On A Midsummer’s Twelfth Night In Winter: all 16 comedies condensed into a single play. We were told that Shakespeare wrote all his comedies to one formula and so he really wrote the same play 16 times (discuss!). The plot of this conglomerate play was then frenetically narrated and proved to be every bit as ludicrous as its moniker. So – all the comedies accounted for in the space of about four minutes.
Macbeth’s cast was reduced to just three characters: Matt as Maccy B, Stephanie as the downsized coven and Emma hilariously “See-Yoough-Jimmeh”-ing her way through the part of MacDuff with more swagger than Errol Flynn after a pint of heavy. Then, Julius Caesar (“Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your rears…”) segued into Antony And Cleopatra (“Is this an asp I see before me?” and more faux puking) followed by a deliberately pretentious, ‘performance art’ take on Troilus And Cressida and Cher-nobyl Kinsmen (Shakespeare’s only play that deals with nuclear fallout). The history plays were all portrayed as one big football match with the crown as the ball and that led us into the interval with the promise of The Great Dane for the second half (Hamlet).
The pattern of roles throughout seemed to be that Emma and Matt were the manic clowns of the show whereas Stephanie was the more measured (although no less stupid) narrator, filling in the story between the acted scenes. Stephanie’s deadpan delivery made a hilarious contrast to Emma’s swaggering characterisations and Matt’s stern alarums. At one point, during a rare lull in the mayhem, Stephanie, dressed as Polonius and ápropos of nothing in particular, entered and mumbled: “Neither a borrower nor a lender be” then hobbled off to bemused laughter from the audience! Hamlet’s dad’s ghost was a smiley face daubed on a sock suspended on string from the ceiling (ah, the magic of theatre!) and Ophelia in the nunnery scene was played by the audience, two of whom were dragged from their seats and made to run back and forth and then scream at the climax of the madness (don’t ask!). The famous closing scene was then acted out at an insanely swift pace even by this show’s standards and then repeated even faster, culminating finally in it being performed backwards! Pheww!
The Compleat Wrks was premiered at the 1987 Edinburgh Festival Fringe and then ran for nine years in the West End, so this is not just some cute, anodyne, written-for-kids party piece and it’s to the credit of the cast and director Wayne Sheridan that the energy and pace necessary for the play to work were never lacking. I say ‘necessary’ because some of the gags were a bit limp or corny and would not even come close to being funny if the cast did not maintain the tempo and keep the audience ‘way off balance’ as the song goes. With such huge demands made on stamina, it was not surprising then that parts of the performances did get a bit ‘shouty’ and lacked clarity but, as far as security of lines and pace were concerned, these three put a lot of the adult actors here to shame!
The two sketches prefacing each half of the show were little gems in themselves: the two loudmouths (Ed Vander and John Holden-Murphy) shouting their derisory opinions at the unseen characters of Hamlet in true football yob fashion and Shakespeare’s agent talking The Bard into paring down the scripts until they became the classic lines we know today (Ella Tidswell and Imogen Rampton-Brooks) were exquisitely acted and very funny.
So well done, D.R.A.M.A.s (Democratic Republic of Absolutely Mad Actors), you certainly lived up to your name on this one!

Stevie Hughes

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