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Edinburgh Fringe 2016

The Ruff Guide to Shakespeare

Take Thou That

Genre: Children's Theatre, Classical and Shakespeare, Storytelling

Venue: Assembly Gardens


Low Down

Another absolute gem from Take Thou That as they cover both Shakespeare’s life and his thirty seven plays at breakneck speed. Words, music and physical theatre, each of the highest quality.


Take Thou That have a great track record in producing accessible versions of Shakespeare plays aimed principally at those at the front end of Jacques’ soliloquy on the seven ages of man but equally suitable for those nearing the latter stages of this character’s musings on life. But they’ve taken a different tack this year and gone for an omnibus edition that presents both a biography of Shakespeare and a very (ruff) guide to each of his thirty seven plays. And all this in just under fifty minutes of helter-skelter action in an Assembly Gardens tented venue much in keeping with the comforts that audiences would have enjoyed in the 16th century.

A simple set greets us with a backdrop adorned with suitable Shakespeare characters augmented by a blackboard containing the full list of his plays, with check boxes to allow cast members to tick off the ones covered during the ensuing mayhem.

The six strong troupe is made up of three men and three women and, for much of the time, they employ the amusing technique of complete cross-casting, a pun perhaps on the strictures present back in the Bard’s day when only men were permitted to act on stage.

The aforementioned Jacques’ musing is used as the sign-poster throughout the piece which is characterised by the sextet’s high-energy, machine-gun delivery, mixed with some complex, well-choreographed movement and a rich variety of character portrayals from the plays and Shakespeare’s life.  The pace is nicely varied with reflective moments provided by snatches of the well-known and less familiar, allowing one actor to briefly take the spotlight and the audience to take a breather. Live music at carefully chosen intervals moves the story along with the whole thing being strung together with modern language linking the biographical detail to the plays themselves.

There’s some excellent audience interaction, a hallmark of previous Take Thou That productions, including a very inventive “Shakespeare Insult” game (he wrote some wonderful put down lines) and the audience gets to choose a play to be performed in record time – in our case Hamlet, the plot of which was conveyed at breakneck speed, reducing the play from what often seems like a five day run time to under two minutes. And there was a wonderful summary of all the deaths in his plays, allowing this tightly drilled cast to deliver three minutes of full-on, commedia dell’arte physical theatre.

The denouement, involving a song medley mentioning each of Shakespeare’s plays, allowed them to cross off the few that hadn’t been directly accessed during the earlier action providing a clever and rousing finish to another excellent and very imaginative piece of theatre from this extremely impressive company.