Edinburgh Fringe 2014
Back at the Fringe for the first time in nearly ten years, the one and only RSC (that’s the Reduced, not the Royal of course) cover more Shakespeare than should be humanly possible in just sixty minutes.
There are many pale imitators, but there’s only one true RSC. That is, of course, the Reduced Shakespeare Company from the good old US of A, not that other right royal English lot that puts on the full-length, original text version of the Bard’s works down in Stratford-upon-Avon and London’s Globe. Just how out-of-date is that?
The RSC is a theatrical institution, having first performed its unique brand of condensed Shakespeare over thirty years ago, starting out in the US before hitting the Fringe in 1987. And it’s a tribute to their skills and the flexibility of Shakespeare’s prose that they are still in such high demand, at least judging by the legion of punters flocking to the cavernous Pleasance Grand on yet another damp Edinburgh afternoon.
For those of you not familiar with their approach, the RSC endeavour to cover all thirty-seven plays, plus a few sonnets and bits on the side, in an hour of helter-skelter entertainment. And, with over 1100 individual character parts to coalesce in such a short space of time, they need perfect timing, lots of simple props in all the right places and the ability to change accent, costumes and (yes) sex in seconds to achieve this goal.
And they have all this, in spades. The troupe of three kick off with their classic interpretation of Romeo and Juliet – in twelve minutes. It is, of course, a complete send up with commedia dell’arte featuring high on the list of acting techniques on display. But then many of Shakespeare’s characters lend themselves to this approach, one oft used when the plays were being performed fresh from the page over four hundred years ago. Roll forward to 2014 and see the RSC use a mix of the original and the modern in terms of text together with a wondering array of props and wigs. Oh, and some ad libs with audience members seated in their eye line that have clearly been tightly choreographed but retain a convincing air of spontaneity.
Titus Andronicus is covered as a rather gory cooking programme and Othello as (what else) a rap. Running out of time, we are whisked through sixteen comedies in a matter of moments which leaves time for a wonderfully kitsch take on the Scottish Play, complete with a few digs at the upcoming independence referendum next month. Then it’s a gallop through the history plays using American football as an allegory (couldn’t they have adapted this to rugby for this local audience?) before we get their party piece of a finale that is Hamlet – forwards, fast forwards and then backwards.
It’s high-energy stuff with the acting being of consistently high quality and their ability to work with an audience clearly evident. The physicality of their performance is top notch, not simply the many entrances and exits but the fights, frights and romantic bits – yes, there were one or two of those as well. Walking onto swords and rapid-fire fist fights don’t happen without a lot of rehearsal and their timing is spot on throughout.
Always leave them wanting more is a sound theatrical maxim. The RSC certainly do that alright. Well worth queuing in the rain for.