Theatrical legend has it that The Boys from Syracuse (Rodgers and Hart's musical rather loosely adapted from Comedy of Errors) does actually have one genuine line of Shakespeare in it. Thus, Shakespearean irreverence is not a new phenomenon.
The Reduced Shakespeare Company's show has been around for some time and has toured 13 countries. Founder members Adam Long, Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor attribute its success to the fact that “Shakespeare is the American playwright who is best known in England”. That's the sort of evening it is - part brash juvenile humour and part very clever indeed. Even seeing the show second time around it still continues to exercise an irresistible charm.
The piece ('all 37 plays in 97 minutes') is based on two premises; firstly, that audiences know something, but not much, about Shakespeare; secondly, the perception that Americans are pig ignorant about the Bard. Play plots are presented in rap (Othello), as an American football game (the Histories) and as a TV cookery programme (Titus Andronicus). If you don't like one sketch, don't worry, for there'll be another one along in a minute. It’s all fast and furious and in fact 36 out of the 37 plays are dispatched in the first 45 minutes. The second half is devoted (I use the term with hesitation) to Hamlet. This involves much frenetic audience participation and takes a sideswipe at the post-Freudian examination of Shakespearean characters.
Of the performers on the current tour, two are from the United States, and one from the 'United States of Canada'. They replicate the enthusiasm and energy of the original cast, under Long's direction.
The adroitness of the sharp writing ensures that the three performers each take their turn as straight men, stooges, and quasi tragedians, and work off each other superbly. Additionally, and perhaps fundamentally, there is an obvious fondness for Shakespeare, and so the parody is not malicious - although an assertion is made that since W.S. cribbed all his comedic plots and plot devices from earlier writers, all the Comedies could in fact be presented as one play! I suspect that all concerned are rather more knowledgeable about dear Will than they make out.
In short, whether you're idea of humour is Groucho Marks, Wayne's World, (or even Shakespeare!), you'll have a great evening out, splitting your sides at the RSC.
Stephen Gilchrist (Reviewed at the Theatre Royal, Brighton)