In 1987, a trio of wannabe Shakespearian actors, Daniel Singer, Jess Borgeson and Adam Long take their one-hour show, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. After founding the Reduced Shakespeare Company (RSC) in 1981, the troupe considered this madcap adventure through all of Shakespeare’s works their final foray into theatre. Fortunately, audiences loved the show, and the RSC would go on to perform The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) across the world. The performance was so popular it became London’s longest-running comedy, spending nine years at the Criterion Theatre in London’s West End theatre district.

While it’s been a hot minute since the 1980s and an even hotter one since the 16th century, playwright, poet, actor and all-round icon, William Shakespeare continues to remain relevant in the 21st century. Melbourne company Slay Theatre presented the work in the cosily humble surroundings at the 16th Street Actors Studio, in a short season that matched the condensed Shakespearian content. As a bit of fan of William, I was hesitant to believe the cast of three; Claire Vandali, Jake Crawford and Alexander Lloyd could achieve the impossible and hit all 37 plays (plus sonnets) in 97 minutes. Happily, I was proven wrong, and the cast steamrolled their way through the performance, notably paying more attention to Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet than some of the other lesser-known plays.

The text encourages the actors to improvise and play upon current pop culture references and local humour so every show is different. There is also absolutely no fourth wall in this production, the actors speak directly to the audience and consistently/purposely break character, in a behind-the-curtain moment for the audience and knowing nod to fellow theatre artists.

The slapstick comedy takes centre stage for the most of the performance, but there are still some beautiful moments of sincerity. Claire Vandali’s Hamlet speech was absolutely divine, and a moment of calm within the wild storm on stage. Alexander Lloyd was brilliant as the buffoonish Shakespeare scholar, playing with the presumed arrogance of one so attuned to the high arts. I especially enjoyed his Ready Steady Cook version of Titus Andronicus, utterly hilarious and downright disgusting. Jake Crawford took on a plethora of characters (some for only 30 seconds and in full costume!) I would have loved to have seen how his version of Lady Macbeth played out given the chance.

Directed by Ebony McGeady, the performers work in a black box theatre with sparse set dressing and minimal bells and whistles. To be honest, trying to cram extra elements on top of the already wild action would overwhelm and over complicate, and this simplicity allows the actors to shine.

The Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged) is gloriously funny and once it gets going, does not stop. It’s a wild ride through your favourite plays, ones you’ve never heard of and a few I’m sure they made up on the night. It’s fun, it’s silly, and it’s definitely not highbrow. It’s a way to enjoy Shakespeare even if you never dug him in school, and this makes it all the more brilliant. It’s accessible art, made for the masses, the exact audience William Shakespeare wrote it for all those centuries ago.

Event details

Slay Theatre presents
The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)
by Daniel Singer, Jess Borgeson and Adam Long

Director Ebony McGeady

Venue: 16th Street Actors Studio | 715 Glen Huntly Road Caulfield, VIC
Dates: 10 – 11 May 2024
Tickets: $22.50


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