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Review: The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) at Meraki Arts Bar

Review by Anja Bless

High energy, high drama, and lots of laughs. Not always the words one would associate with the work of William Shakespeare, but an apt description of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) now showing at Meraki Arts Bar. An ambitious project, the performance spans the 36 (more or less) plays of Shakespeare. At times summarising the less compelling tragedies with a death tally and for others dedicating time to the story, soliloquys, and depth of Shakespeare’s more famous works.

Performers Alex (Alexander Spinks), Janet (Lib Campbell), and Nick (Tel Benjamin) are honest in their use of Shakespeare as a tool to demonstrate their acting range and depth (in the hope of securing an agent, or at least some employment). This honesty and humility brings the audience on side, as the performers race through some of Shakespeare’s more beloved works in extremely abridged versions, whilst trying to recall if they even knew King John was a Shakespearean play at all. The comedy comes early and often as each performer proves adept at putting their body on the line for a joke, whilst remaining witty with impeccably rehearsed quips at one another and the audience.

Campbell is a dominant presence on stage, ready to take the audience by surprise, while Benjamin is endearing in his characterisation of Nick as the uncertain actor, unsure of where to direct his talents. Spinks is the admirable lead, keeping the whole show together as it leaps from one monolith of theatrical tradition to the other (whilst turning both on their head).

Under the direction of Madeleine Withington, the performance rarely lose pace or the captivity of their audience (who are often in stitches with laughter). The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged), at barely 75 minutes is some of the most captivating and enjoyable theatre you could watch on the Sydney theatre scene, not to mention at times damn near educational.

There are times where the script stumbles, such as the fleeing off stage of two of the performers for little more reason than a protracted gag. And the over-emphasis on Shakespeare’s most well-known works in Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, and Hamlet calls for a little more bravery to delve into less-explored plays. However, these are bare critiques of what is largely a faultless performance. The use of the darker monologues in Hamlet to bring some contrast to the comedy, for instance, is a very welcome reprieve from the at times absurd performance, and it does well to highlight the breadth of the performer’s talents (both in sincerity and as part of the more meta joke of job seeking).

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) is a delightful way to brush up on your literature, have a laugh, and remember than even the most intimidating of texts can be broken down into a netball match.

Image Credit: Clare Hawley


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