The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)

(Spirit Entertainment/Tim Woods)


I came to praise this production, not to bury it, but someone’s got to deal with the corpses left by the cast, who did their best to murder all 37 of Shakespeare’s plays in a performance that had to be endured for slightly longer than the 97 minutes promised by the program.

After a prologue that was genuinely funny and augured well, the evening degenerated into some of the most puerile attempts at humour I’ve seen in a long time. And it just went on and on. Germs of several good ideas were laboured to painful, lingering deaths every time they emerged in a show that I had expected to be highly amusing, but turned out to be just plain silly.

Various tacks were taken with Shakespeare’s plays: some of the biggies (Romeo and Juliet, Titus Andronicus, Othello and Hamlet, for example) were given spots on their own, while others were compressed into group sets and dismissed with a quick gambol or summary note. The allusions were fast and furious, and not always able to be heard.

To see or not to see? Anyone looking for a surfeit of fart jokes, vomit jokes and pratfalls, a lot of audience interaction, topical allusions and sexually active glove puppets, will find much to entertain them. And it has to be said that many in the first night audience did seem to be enjoying themselves, laughing in all the right places, and apparently enthusiastic in their uptake of each of the repeated offers of encores from the cast.

But for anyone who is looking for a witty and well-performed approach to all of the opportunities that are there for extracting humour from a low-brow interpretation of the works of the single writer who has had the greatest influence over the English language? Well, they’ll have to look elsewhere for that. This production has all the verve, enthusiasm and manic madness of a high school revue put on by overgrown schoolboys. And they might as well have been holding up laugh signs for all the subtlety with which they signalled the arrival of each bit they thought excruciatingly funny.

Director John Saunders had a hunch (like Richard III, get it?) that we’d enjoy ourselves. Well, it certainly didn’t work for me, and I’m still trying to figure out how much of that was due to the scrappy script, and how much to the very uneven performances by Steve Kearney, Tim Schwerdt and Justin Melvey. All of these are experienced professional actors, so maybe they intended to come across as amateur night. In which case they definitely succeeded, and were supported by a backdrop that added nothing to the production, and costumes that certainly did not blow out the budget.

I see in the program (which, incidentally, was marginally funnier than the production itself) that this show is of British origin, was first performed in 1987 and has had some success since then. As for its legs, however, I’d say that they already show extreme signs of wear, and have no chance of going anything like the distance travelled by the plays being lampooned.

Response to this review Queensland’s Online Stage Magazine

— Anne Ring
(Performance seen: Thu 19th July 2001)