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Fond fun in a romp through Shakespeare

The players in “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) (revised)”. Photo: Connor McNaught

“The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) (revised)” by Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield. At Canberra Rep Theatre, until December 2. Reviewed by ALANNA MACLEAN.

CANBERRA Rep has chosen a right old romp for its last show of the year. “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) (revised)” is just what it says on the tin; a charge through all of Shakespeare’s plays with a short swerve at the sonnets (and a fair amount of time spent on “Hamlet”).

Director Ylaria Rogers and cast Callum Doherty, Alex McPherson and Ryan Street have clearly had a lot of fun with this. Whether that always translates into a tight comedy is another matter. What this piece demands is pace and clarity and precision and sometimes in this production that all wobbles.

A degree of audience participation is important too, but it should be kept tight and not permitted to sprawl.

However, there’s a deal of enjoyment to be got out of sending up Shakespeare and this cast happily go at the obvious. “Romeo and Juliet’s” tragedy is given quite a work out, the history plays are all crowns and battles, “Titus Andronicus” becomes a macabre cooking show, and some plays are barely glimpsed at all. The Scottish Play is, of course, full of waving tartans, lurid lighting and bad Scottish accents.

Then “Hamlet” gets an extended treatment in the second half, complete with ghost and skulls and Polonius lurking behind the arras and puppet versions of “The Mousetrap”.

Street plays the solid blocky characters such as Claudius and Bottom, and McPherson is kept very busy as a range of people that seem to range from the Nurse to Polonius. Doherty gets to shine especially once he is into the swing of “Hamlet”.

The set is a trifle odd, with a strangelooking shack on one side and a pile of chairs and props on the other. There’s a half green floor too, but it’s not clear why. But the “Hamlet” ghost scenes, with a skull on a stick hovering above a white sheet do have a certain eeriness about them.

When it comes to playing around with Shakespeare, Tom Stoppard is much better at writing this stuff (“Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead”, “Dogg’s Hamlet”, “Cahoot’s Macbeth”…) but there is a certain appeal in “The Complete Works” that has lasted over three decades now. It requires a tighter control in performance than it’s currently receiving in this production, but that may come as the season progresses.

So, this show might work for you if you are looking to see how much of Shakespeare you can remember. There’s a fondness for him here that is touching.

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