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Culture

Shakespeare at a million miles per hour

Text by Aurélie BLONDEL

Latest update : 2009-09-16

The Bard’s plays are not always a heavy slog. “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, Abridged”, playing in Hong Kong until September 20 proves just that – zipping through the complete works in just an hour and a half.

Juliet wears trainers and Romeo vomits on the audience. Hamlet recites the infamous “To Be or Not To Be” both backwards and forwards. Macbeth has his severed head tossed into the crowd.

"Othello" plays out in hip hop and "King Lear" is set at an American football match. Anything goes with the Reduced Shakespeare Company (not to be confused with the other RSC, the Royal Shakespeare Company), who have spent the summer touring Asia, in Singapore and Hong Kong, before taking the production to the United States at the end of the month.

The company’s mission is to reduce the Complete Works to a mere 97 minutes while remaining as faithful to the original as possible. All of this is performed by just three actors.

The result is a lightning ride through an avalanche of jokes and gags in the ribald English style Shakespeare himself would no doubt have approved of, and that has indeed proved popular for years in the UK and the US.

It’s all in good fun. There is no controversy or speculation that the work is based on the Bard’s originals, and the play does not hide the morbid side of some of Shakespeare’s works.

Tarantino mode


"Titus Andronicus", probably the bloodiest of his plays, is indeed a bloodbath, as if Shakespeare had gone into Tarantino mode. His comedies are featured, if but briefly, since they are, many say, less funny than his tragedies.


Using just three actors harks back to old-time traditions of playing tragedies. The trio are constantly changing costumes, voices and genders, calling in the help of members of the audience when the task gets tricky.

And just like in Shakespeare’s days, there are no women in the production, with the youngest of the three actors taking on the female roles. This is not a parody of Shakespeare – it is more a faithful rendition of core Elizabethan theatre, while at the same time poking a mocking finger at “serious” drama.
 

Date created : 2009-09-16

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