Saturday, 15 May 1999

The Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged), 15 May 1999

By Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield 
at Athenaeum II, from 15 May 1999
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

How many kilos of ham can fit on the Athenaeum II theatre stage? Glynn Nicholas, Russell Fletcher and Sean O'Shea manage to jam the whole pig into their production of The Complete Works of Shakespeare (abridged).

The hamming is not unintentional. The entire works of Will are condensed into 97 minutes of rollicking, hooting, mugging, teasing and bull dust. Wigs are on and off like a bishop's cassock. Characters die like flies, fight like Zorro, dress like ghosts, prance, primp and ponce about until everybody is dead, disguised or drown'ed.

The script was written in England ten years ago by three presumably out-of-work and really ticked off actors. It has now toured the English- speaking world but this version has a distinctly Australian flavour.

The cast does not merely babble through short versions of the texts. They begin with an hilarious ten minutes of Romeo and Juliet with a fine balcony scene then do that Scottish play with outrageous Highland accents. They follow with a very bloody TV cooking version of Titus Andronicus and a rap Othello.

They scamper through all sixteen comedies kneaded into one quickie story riddled with mistaken identities and then do all the histories rolled into a football match with the crown as the football.

The second half is all Hamlet, Ponce of Denmark. O'Shea is suitably dour and superior as the Ponce and he looks a scary amount like Rowan Atkinson in Black Adder. Fletcher's doddering old Polonius is very funny. Nicholas does the world's best drowning of Ophelia on dry land. and the audience participation provides the most incisive Freudian interpretation of Ophelia's madness ever seen on the modern stage

The three actors make a great comic team, slipping in and out of roles, bickering on stage and playing with text, audience and each other. They are like naughty kids in the playground.

It is a brave comedian who goes onstage to compete with Glynn Nicholas who is a seasoned solo performer. His playing of Ophelia as Blanche Dubois is a gift and his King Hamlet's ghost as sock puppet simply ridiculous.

The pace of the show will certainly adjust throughout the season. It relies on hyping the audience and galloping apace for 97 minutes. It is worth seeing the three minute, ten second and backward versions of Hamlet that the three do for an encore.

By Kate Herbert

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