A review by James Buxton w for EXTRA! EXTRA!



The Complete Works of William Shakespeare



Photo by Henry Filloux-Bennett

by Adam Long, Jess Winfield and Daniel Singer


Directed by Henry Filloux-Bennett

New Red Lion Theatre
16 March – 7 May 2011


One could be forgiven for mistaking The New Red Lion Theatre situated in Angel, Islington, for a pub, I mean it looks like a pub from the outside, yet anyone keen on having a brew here might find themselves stumbling into a smoky, dim lit interior which  resembles a jazz club. For this is not your typical black box theatre. Instead the action takes place on a small stage which juts out into the audience where a number of small tables make for a more intimate and informal affair, suiting tonight's ramshackle performance down to a T.

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) began its life at the Edinburgh Fringe in 1987, transferred to the Criterion that same year, where it enjoyed a record breaking nine year run and went on to become the most successful comedy in the West End. In its previous manifestation the play was performed by three American men, as opposed to the current British cast of two men (James McNicholas, Owen Roberts) and one woman (Lucy Woolliscroft). Adam Long, one of the show's writers was keen to give the show a home, where it could enjoy an extended run, (new dates have just been added) and the recently developed New Red Lion offered to provide that cozy, fringe atmosphere that is perhaps more suited to the play’s content than the large auditoriums of the West End.

This is Shakespeare at breakneck speed, farcically opposite the stately pace at which The Bard's plays are normally performed. We are treated to a 110 minutes of high octane “Bardolatory” where all Shakespeare's plays are chopped up, stuck in a blender and whizzed about the theatre in a frenetic show of renaissance insanity. The distilled elixir is an intoxicating liquor that will leave you choking with laughter or poisoned with disdain. I personally was drunk with enjoyment. All the Histories are re envisioned as a Rugby match, while all the Comedies fuse together into a surreal animation. Some of the Tragedies are acted out in entertainingly excessive modern parallels, thus Othello becomes a rap battle, Titus Adronicus: Gordon Ramsey's the F Word, Romeo & Juliet, a madcap homage to Baz Luhrmann's cinematic version in renaissance dress.

What is actually more humorous than these modern imaginings is the intentionally catastrophic dynamic between the players. It is the casts’ mishaps and internal politics that become the real charm of the show. Owen Roberts as the director in a few scenes agonizes and despairs as he watches Lucy Woolliscroft playing Juliet, emit yet another piercing shriek, loud enough to shatter glass, as she collapses in a hilariously melodramatic fashion. James McNicholas performs with such high energy, you wonder if his drink has been spiked with amphetamines. He tosses himself around the stage with insatiable vigour as he swaps one role for another, or balances in the background on one leg as Roberts attempts to engage the audience in a serious manner. But of course there is nothing serious about this play - it is a frivolous send up of Shakespeare's sacred canon. In the second half, the cast attempts a version of Hamlet.  McNicholas and Roberts frustration with Woolliscroft reaches its climax as her ludicrous, deliberate errors and painful screams play up to the audience's desires to see everything go wrong. This culminates in a member of the audience being taken on stage to take her part as Ophelia, while Woolliscroft swears at her with comic vengeance. By the end of the show the entire audience is engaged in a Mexican wave while shouting out quotes from Hamlet which represent his Id, Ego and Superego.

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) is Shakespeare without the boring bits. An update for the information age, where we find ourselves drowning in data, like some modern day Caliban hunched over the keys, tapping refresh, with a fiendish desire to possess the latest news. Unable to separate the real from the virtual, one link leads to another and before you know it SH0KZP££R has laid down a Royal Flush and you've just lost another tenner to your online gambling addiction.

Don't go and see this show if you want to see a traditional version of Shakespeare's plays. Do go and see this play if you want to see what it might feel like to have 10,000 volts of Bardic electricity coursing through “The natural gates and alleys of the body, And with a sudden vigour doth posset.”


New Red Lion Theatre
271-273 City Road
Tuesday to Saturday 7:30pm, Saturday and Sunday Mat at 3:30pm
Tickets £10 to £16.


Box Office: 0844 412 4307 



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