"Masters of mayhem and merriment"
by Avril Silk for remotegoat on 11/03/17

Colossi are all the go right now because a gigantic statue has been unearthed in Cairo, so I offer you the eye-watering image of the Colossi of Comedy – The Reduced Shakespeare Company - straddling the Atlantic Ocean all the way from the White House to Taunton’s Tacchi-Morris Centre. One of the great talents of this troupe is their ability to turn the audience into willing accomplices as they lightly barbecue the Bard. Arming them with weapons of moist destruction adds to the mayhem and merriment.

We were treated to ‘William Shakespeare’s Long Lost First Play (abridged)’, written by Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor with wit, panache and rudery and performed by the exceedingly versatile and energetic Joseph Maudsley, Michael Pearson and James Percy. Quickfire gags and lightning costume changes dazzled and delighted us, as metaphors were mangled, trochees tortured, and iambic pentameters immolated.

The character list involves all the usual suspects – and I do mean all. A cast of thousands romped through a plot almost as credible as some of Shakespeare’s later plays. We had twins (separated, naturally). Very rough magic. Cross-dressing. Tempests. Thanks to audience members Gale and Dale we were treated to a fabulously funny shipwreck. Also feuds. Nothing like a good feud to fuel the flames. Arch-enemies Ariel and Puck, abetted by Hecate and her henchwomen, cast their web of enchantment over Hamlet, King Lear, Lady Macbeth, Goneril, Regan , Cordelia, Prospero, Falstaff, Mistress Quickly, Richard III, Katharina, Petruchio and Beatrice, to name but a few. The multiple costume, wig and voice changes were handled with aplomb and alacrity. Costume designer Denis Blatchford’s outfit for Ariel elicited a well-deserved round of applause – once the shock had worn off.

The show is tremendous fun, as well as being extremely clever. As it says in the very entertaining programme, ‘The popularity of parodies underscores audiences’ intimacy with Shakespeare; the more acute their familiarity, the greater the comedic pay-off.’ There is a real pleasure to be had in ‘the veritable industry of source-spotting.’ Years ago I relished Bob Carlton’s ‘Return to the Forbidden Planet’ and Michael Green’s ‘’Tis Pity She’s the Merry Wife of Henry VI (Part One)’ for the same reason.

So how about audiences who are less Shakespeare-savvy? They will still find much to enjoy in the puns, pace and puppetry. (That’s enough alliteration, thank you. Ed.) The inspired device of linking Walt to Willy (Oi! Ed again) makes a valid and entertaining connection between Disney’s block-busters and Shakespeare’s barn-stormers. (I give up. Ed) Even Robert ‘Grouchy’ Greene, who in 1596 disparaged Shakespeare (aka Ben Jonson’s Sweet Swan of Avon) as ‘an upstart crow beautified with our feathers’, would have been moved to mirth.

In the unlikely event of the present incumbent of the Wendy White House ever inviting the RSC to perform, this talented team could have a field day. Think of Donalbain, framed by Macbeth. FAKE NEWS! SAD!!

For all of us reeling from the mayhem that is being wrought in the real world by politicians and despots, the Reduced Shakespeare Company brings a welcome feast of exuberance and fun, laced with considerable erudition. I’m now going to find out why ‘Henry VIII’ is rarely performed – apart from being instrumental in the fire that destroyed the original Globe Theatre in 1613 because of a loose cannon.

There are many more opportunities to catch this life-enhancing production as it tours the UK this Spring, and their weekly, free podcasts are great fun.

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