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Henry Filloux-Bennett On ... The Complete Works (Abridged)

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Director Henry Filloux-Bennett became artistic director of the Old Red Lion Theatre in July 2010. In 2008 he founded Lenez Productions, with productions including The Ukulele Project (Edinburgh Fringe); Madagascar (Theatre503); Artist Descending A Staircase; the 25th Anniversary Production of Stepping Out (UK Number one Tour) and Well (Trafalgar Studios and the Apollo).

As a writer and director, Henry’s first play, Wasted, was produced at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2006, and most recently he adapted Evelyn Waugh’s Decline and Fall for the Old Red Lion Theatre.

Honour Bayes talks to Filloux-Bennett about taking over the reins of the Old Red Lion, their new space the New Red Lion and his new production of West End long-runner The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged).

Long before the success of Potted Potter, Pirates and Panto, three guys were taking the complete works of William Shakespeare and ramming them into a breakneck 90 minutes. Entitled (strangely enough) The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged), The Reduced Shakespeare Company’s hilarious show is still one of the most defining memories of the Bard that I, and many of my peers, have. Running for a legendary nine years at the Criterion it was a staple for theatre goers of the 90’s before closing to tour internationally (currently the Americans are lapping it up).

Now an updated version of this Elizabethan giggle fest is setting up shop in the New Red Lion under the directorship of Henry Filloux-Bennett. It fits in perfectly with this new venue’s comedy focus “We’ve been doing things there ‘what are funny’ and it’s been a massive success.” With the whole of last week sold out already whilst still in previews, it certainly seems to be.

Filloux-Bennett took over the running of the Old and New Red Lion theatres in July 2010 and it has been important to him to create partnership venues that compliment each other “We were initially concerned with exactly how that relationship would work but whilst the New Red Lion does mostly funny things, the Old Red Lion is still drama, new writing and for emerging artists.”

In dark times to provide a place where people can laugh is a typically savvy angle from Filloux-Bennett, an artistic director who comes from a background in producing. Having worked for the likes of Bill Kenwright it’s been drilled into him that “You have to programme with your audience in mind.” But how can he be confident about knowing what the paying public wants? He laughs “I’m quite a middle of the road person – if I quite like something then hopefully some other people will. I think that’s the way you have to programme.”

Using his producer’s nous Filloux-Bennett has updated and Anglicised The Complete Works, rightly recognising that it is a piece which could be in danger of dating badly. “The first time we read it we were chuckling because it is very ‘California surfer dude’ comedy…comedy has changed in last ten, 15 years. Shows like The Office and Peep Show have really changed the way people see it.”

Founding member Adam Long has given Filloux-Bennett pretty much carte blanche with the script and it sounds as though whilst The Reduced Shakespeare Company’s spirit remains strong, quite a few changes have been made, making this a very Islington take on this comedy classic. “A lot of the references were 80’s and a lot of the challenge with Shakespeare is to bring it directly to the contemporary audience. We’ve got Gordon Ramsay’s The F Word, a very bad English rap, rugby... I hope what we’ve done is bring it bang up to date for now.” It seems there’s new life is this old show yet after all.

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) opens at the New Red Lion on 30 March (previews from 16 March) where it continues until 7 May 2011.

- Honour Bayes


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