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NB: as of 23 September 2008, all new artSMart articles are being published on the site news.artsmart.co.za.

THE COMPLEAT WORKS OF WLLM SHKSPR (article first published : 2004-02-5)

Last July, the Catalina Theatre resounded to hilarious sounds of mirth as audiences rollicked through the madcap motions of The Compleat Works of Wllm Shkspr – the brainchild of Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield of the Reduced Shakespeare Company. The show has been playing in London and New York for many years.

The Durban production had a rock solid award-winning creative team with direction by Peter Court and a highly energetic cast of Steven Stead, Michael Gritten and Neil Coppen. The aim of the play is to get through the entire works of William Shakespeare in about 97 minutes. This, as you can imagine, is a considerable feat – particularly as Hamlet alone plays for three hours!

Well, they were extremely successful the first time and, with their current revival of the production at the Catalina, they should have no problem packing the houses again for another season.

Apart from the fact that the volume of Shakespeare’s works is looking considerably tatty and could do with a replacement, the show is still as funny and well-presented as it was before. So I make no excuses for quoting from my original review which still stands. (You will find the full review in the artSMart Drama archives)

“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 Braveheart lookalike as Macduff. 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 are a number of fairly hectic wigs, props and fake blood. Much kudos to whoever has to do the laundry!”

The Compleat Works of Wllm Shkspr (Abridged) runs from February 4 to 29. Far from turning in his grave, I should think that Shakespeare’s spirit is having a good chuckle as he looks on! Bookings or more information from the Catalina Theatre on 031 305 6889. – Caroline Smart




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