Fresh from their UK tour, and following the success of their run at last year’s Fringe, the Reduced Shakespeare Company return this year with their most recent work, William Shakespeare’s Long Lost First Play (abridged), offering audiences a fast-paced condensation of Shakespeare’s greatest characters and plots, while serving up some inspired mash-ups that will change your perception of those original plays.
‘cram all your Bard-based viewing into one, convenient hour’
The company made their name at the Fringe in 1987 and, thirty-years on, their work remains perfectly suited to the irreverent, rapid-fire environment of the festival. Shakespeare often struggles at Edinburgh, given the difficulty in cutting the plays and fear some parodists have of approaching such ‘sacred’ work. Neither are a problem for the ‘other RSC’, who combine British pantomime traditions with American surrealism to produce something which manages to be both family-friendly and risqué at times. Shaving twenty minutes off last year’s running time, this hour-long version of Long Lost benefits from those cuts, feeling both slick and focused. The principal draw is watching the theatrical feat of these three actors perform multiple Shakespearean roles, something which they achieve with aplomb.
Each brings a remarkably different energy, which helps to make the trio function so effectively. Matt Pearson plays the bookish, pseudo-intellectual, who values Shakespeare’s literary reputation over his necessity to be staged. James Percy is the polar opposite: making cuts here and there and insisting that Shakespeare was meant to be performed, not read. Joe Maudsley lodges himself in-between as the overgrown man-child and, in many ways, audience’s portal into the narrative, given his utter obliviousness to the cultural war erupting around him.
It should be noted that this show, perhaps more than others by the Reduced Shakespeare Company, relies heavily on an audience’s prior knowledge of the subject matter, although this shouldn’t put off those who aren’t fans of Shakespeare. The trio’s slapstick comedy and audience interaction ensures that the show, even at its most referential, never becomes inaccessible or boring. The mash-ups also centre around characters that most are likely to already know, including a wonderful exchange between Hamlet and Lady Macbeth, in which she commands ‘I need you to be a to be Hamlet’. Equally good is a scene in which Hamlet has a theatrical disagreement with Bottom from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The company also has a healthy fascination regarding pop culture, with an extended scene that positions ‘Disney as the modern day Shakespeare’ being one of the real highlights.
If you like your Shakespeare with a heavy dose of irreverence, want to watch a group of actors who love him just as much as you do, or simply wish to cram all your Bard-based viewing into one, convenient hour, then this is the show for you.
Gilded Balloon Teviot, 3rd – 28th August (except Wednesdays), 13:30
Image: The Reduced Shakespeare Company