Review By Margaret Thanos
William Shakespeare’s works are still often held up by us theatre kids as some of the greatest works of all time, that tear us apart with laughter or with sadness. However, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) directed for Lane Cove Theatre Company by Jess Davis, was a dark comedy show that occasionally veered on the side of outdated or offensive. This play does not critique the shortcomings of Shakespeare’s work, but rather reinforces them.
Written for 1980s audiences, the show includes jokes about rape based on Titus Andronicus, sexist impressions of Shakespeare’s greatest and most complex female characters and the transformation of Othello into a white 90s rap. Perhaps these jokes, in the context of Britain in the 1980s were acceptable, but now they do a huge detriment to what could otherwise be an enjoyable community show. Davis asks in her director’s note that we ‘both laugh and cringe in equal measures’ but I was cringing not at the occasionally hilarious debasing of Shakespeare, but at these offensive elements.
Otherwise, the content of the show did have its moments. The repetition of Hamlet five times increasingly getting faster and then backwards and the mashing up of every single comedy into a few minutes were highlights.
The production quality overall was low, but this was forgivable given the community theatre atmosphere. It was clear that the audience were not there to see a mainstage quality show, but just to have a bit of fun. The continual costume changes, set changes and the purposeful low-budget look of the set added to the hilarity of the haphazard nature of the show itself.
On a positive note, the performers Logan McCarthur, Eleanor Petricevic and Luke W. Shepherd all gave energetic and excited performances, that kept an audience engaged despite the outdated and repetitive content. Shepherd’s performance as Luke, the pre-eminent Shakespeare scholar had the perfect stance and delivery to pull off some of those more cheesy Shakespearian moments. Petricevic as Eleanor, the cast member that just wants to get on with the show was a lovable character, that kept the show moving with her enthusiasm. McCarthur however, was the standout performer. While I don’t agree with the continual portrayal of those female characters as doltish and silly, his comedic timing was impeccable and his delivery of the final Hamlet monologue demonstrated immense skills in Shakespeare.
Davis’ direction was twofold. On the one hand, these outdated elements that were exacerbated particularly by the direction of the female characters of Shakespeare, in which they used high pitched voices and swooned over men. There was no critique here, only the exploitation of classic female tropes of weakness to give laughter to a very particular audience. On the other hand however, Davis’ use of space and the flow of the show (given its chaotic nature) is to be commended.
Overall, this show was made for a specific audience in a specific time. It is sad that we feel the need to resort to devaluing women, or using racist jokes to poke fun at the old Bard or to entertain ourselves. Community theatre should reflect our growing and changing world, but in this case it desires to be stuck in the past when there are multitudes of contemporary works waiting to be heard. The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) is a very silly play, which has its moments, but is not one that has survived the test of time. In our ever changing world, we should be adapting our texts to suit, helping us to move forward and find new types of humour and joy.
Image Credit: Graeme Dobbs
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.