Which of the two companies that share the acronym RSC has a permanent London presence, three productions being performed in rotating repertoire by a permanent acting company, and a commitment to perform the entire Shakespearean oeuvre? No, it's not the Royal Shakespeare Company anymore, but the upstarts who share their initials: the Reduced Shakespeare Company.
This troupe of strolling players has usurped their seniors to become the West End's longest-ever running repertory company with a bunch of irreverent, fast-paced sketch shows that provide lightning tours of the complete works of Shakespeare, the history of America and the Bible, all of them accomplished in 100 minutes (including interval).
The last of these The Bible - The Complete Word of God (abridged), which previously had a West End run at the Gielgud Theatre in 1997, has been returned - following another extensive regional tour - to join the rep at the Criterion, where the company have been in residence since 1996.
Though future theatre historians might point at the success of these shows as final proof of the dumbing down of our theatrical culture - one in which spoof Shakespeare is more commercially viable than the real thing - it has to be admitted that the company have found an utterly winning formula that seems to work equally well no matter what subject it's applied to.
It's an undergrad, med-school revue style of cheesy jokes, references both topical and anachronistic, and moments of audience participation, displaying a pretence of spontaneity and employing poor theatre conventions that helpfully maintain the spirit of an extremely low-budget enterprise and an atmosphere of things supposedly going wrong. "I'm gonna kick your ass, man", is the level of the banter that results.
Resistance proves ultimately futile, however, partly because the cast really are engaging, and despite everything, the script is, in fits and starts, often actually funny, though never exactly subtle.
- Mark Shenton