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THE COMPLEAT WORKS OF WLLM SHKSPR (article first published : 2003-07-31)

Throw the considerable talents of director Peter Court and actors Steven Stead, Michael Gritten and Neil Coppen into a blending machine, add the entire works of William Shakespeare, turn on at full blast while doing the fandango or something equally energetic and you’ll end up with the glorious theatrical spoof that is currently running at the Catalina Theatre at Wilson’s Wharf.

The Compleat Works of Wllm Shkspr - very considerably abridged into 97 minutes, give or take audience response – is the brainchild of the Reduced Shakespeare Company which has been presenting this show in London for many years.

We saw this production in London about 12 hours after Princess Diana had died in a car crash in Paris in the early hours of that morning. With no directive from Buckingham Palace as to whether the country was officially in mourning, we weren’t sure whether the performance would take place but went along to The Criterion, anyway. I also wondered how the cast would handle such a hilarious knockabout show at such a time. An announcement before the curtain went up stated that the cast members were obviously battling to come to terms with the tragic news. However, as Princess Diana had been such a supporter of their work they felt she would have expected them to respect the dictum that the “show must go on” and dedicated the performance to her memory. It couldn’t have been handled better or more respectfully.

Thankfully, no such cloud hung over the Durban performance but if it had, I have no doubt that our cast would have been just as professional in their attitude. Steven Stead’s credibility is rock solid, having made his mark on the Durban theatre scene at a very early age. Now based in London, he appeared in numerous productions for the Natal Performing Arts Council (NAPAC) and The Playhouse Company. With the hint of much dramatic power under his surface, Michael Gritten is one of Durban’s most respected actors. While he may be the “youngster” of the team, Neil Coppen has made impressive strides over the past couple of years and proved that he could more than match the skills of his fellow cast members.

How does one even begin to describe the text? The only play of Shakespeare’s that gets a decent airing is Hamlet and this is such hilarious mayhem that you have to keep reminding yourself that Steven Stead won an FNB Vita award as best actor for his performance in the role in Themi Venturas’s production a couple of years back. Clad in doublet and hose, Steven is allowed to indulge in declamatory speech and appear pained by the antics of those around him. Michael’s roles range from a languid Romeo to a dwarfish Nurse or an unintelligible Mel Gibson-lookalike Macbeth. The bulk of the physical theatre lands in Neil Coppen’s lap as the reluctant party to the machinations of the other two.

Expect to see Titus Andronicus as a TV cookery show; the succession to the English throne played as a rugby game and over 150 sonnets condensed onto one cue card. Hamlet involves audience participation a-plenty and Hamlet’s ghost is to be seen to be believed! There’s a number of fairly hectic wigs, props and fake blood. Much kudos to whoever has to do the laundry!

This is a hilarious production for one and all but if you know your Shakespeare, you’ll love the cleverness of the script which was written by Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield of the Reduced Shakespeare Company. The Compleat Works of Wllm Shkspr runs at Catalina Theatre until August 10. More information or bookings through Catalina Theatre on 031 305 6889. - – Caroline Smart




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