Monday, October 8, 2007

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)

This isn’t an actual movie, but is actually a filmed live performance of a three-man theater group called the Reduced Shakespeare Company. Based on this one performance that I’ve thus far seen of theirs, I can describe them in one word: awesome.

Here they’ve turned Shakespeare’s works into a vaudeville act, compressing all of his plays and sonnets into a ninety minute performance that still finds time to throw in some fire eating, history lessons, and a football game (specifically noted to be American football, as if there were any other kind). It’s very over the top and silly, in the grand tradition of the old Zucker/Abrahams/Zucker films, which I am certainly as receptive as any to. The various skits do tend to range in quality, as they themselves acknowledge (after quickly cramming all sixteen of Shakespeare’s comedies into one routine, they then go back to his tragedies because they have an easier time poking fun at them), but are almost always at least pretty good. Some particular standouts include their version of Macbeth, complete with true to life Scottish accents, and an adorable walking Godzilla doll that steals the show during Troilus and Cressida.

The main focus of the show, however, comes from Hamlet, which takes up the second act (this after a call to drink during the intermission, as “we’re always much better after you’ve had a few drinks”). Generally considered his best work, it gets the full treatment here, with them dragging the entire audience into the performance and actually (albeit briefly) getting all serious on us with its dramatic power, before completely undercutting it all at the end by doing some brilliant jazz riffs on the whole thing that I really want to reveal to you, but really shouldn’t. It’s a brilliant way to cap off the whole show.

While I wish some of the earlier bits had been better (the show gets stronger as it builds up momentum), it’s overall a rather delightful piece, and even people that aren’t very interested in Shakespeare might enjoy it. If you’re the sort of person that would actually consider purchasing a $100 box set because the words “Flying Circus” boldly appear in the title (and you know who you are), then this is well worth checking out.

Rating: *** ½

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