A fifteen month hiatus from live theatre has left everyone in the industry both grateful to be back and trepidatious in equal measure. Therefore, when my editor suggested that my first review in nine months should be ‘The Complete Works of William Shakespeare’, I checked the calendar to see if it wasn’t April 1st. Thankfully, rather than the entire canon of 37 plays, we were presented with an 80 minutes gallop through the collected works of ‘The Bard’, laced with humour, improvisation and slapstick which made for a highly entertaining Monday evening at the warm and welcoming Garrick Playhouse in Altrincham.
Written by Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Whitfield, this show was originally performed at the Edinburgh Festival in 1987, before transferring to London where it ran successfully for nine years. In its structure, it still retains the strong scent of the student review, with the three actors constantly breaking the fourth wall to interact with the audience and bicker amongst themselves. This device slightly fell flat on the opening night, the audience being both extremely small (Covid sanctions fully in place) and lacking the warmth necessary to allow the semi-improved nature of the performance to fully take flight.
However, given the restrictions under which they were working, the cast were bright and engaged in their multitudinous performances of the myriad characters through the course of the evening. Tabitha Hughes was cast as the strong, sensible centre trying to move the production along, being constantly exasperated at the maddening ‘antic disposition’ of James London and the hammy thespianism of Marcella Hazell. Whilst I have seen these characteristics more fully realised in previous productions, the sheer brio and energy made the dynamic between them all work extremely well, papering over some of the opening night errors and loss of some of the more abstruse jokes present in the dense script.
Starting with Romeo & Juliet and concluding with Hamlet (an ‘in’ joke around the fact they nearly forgot to include Shakespeare’s most enduring and famous work), we are taken through Histories, Comedies and Tragedies at breakneck speed using a variety of comedy styles. Inevitably, there was some unevenness in this review structure, with certain sections working better than others. A Macbeth complete with atrocious Scottish accents and conflating all the 16 comedies into one (on the grounds they are all the same), being my personal highlights, whilst a similar device with the History plays felt confused and without wit. There was even time to throw in a few serious scholarly points around the lesser known plays and the tendency of Shakespeare to plagiarise from historical and contemporary sources. The audience certainly got its money’s worth in just under an hour and a half!
Director and Set Designer Barry Purves utilised a simple style with large building blocks dressing the set and coloured balloons, each one bursting as a play was ticked off by the cast. Purves is a hugely gifted director as well as an Oscar and BAFTA nominated animator, his wider gifts were demonstrated prior to the curtain with a showing of his 1989 stop motion animation ‘Next: The Infinite Variety Show’, which dovetailed with the play’s subject matter perfectly.
Overall, a fast, frenetic and energetic production of a highly entertaining show which is a perfect reintroduction to theatre for everyone after so long away.
The Complete works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) continues until Saturday 26th June, for mor information and to book visit https://www.altrinchamgarrick.co.uk/
Reviewer: Paul Wilcox
Reviewed: 21st June 2021
North West End UK Rating: ★★★