Edinburgh Fringe 2016
Back at the Fringe with a brand new discovery, the one and only RSC (that’s the Reduced, not the Royal Shakespeare Company, of course) cover more of the Bard’s babblings than should be humanly possible in just eighty 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.
The RSC has become a theatrical institution, having started its unique brand of condensed Shakespeare over thirty years ago in the US before first hitting the Fringe back in 1987. 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 Beyond in the dying embers of the final afternoon of this year’s extravaganza.
Mind you, it’s hardly surprising to see so many Shakespeare buffs given that the RSC are premiering the Bard’s long lost first play, recently discovered beneath a pile of old bones in a Leicester car park. This voluminous tome is, we’re told, over 3000 pages long, would take over 100 hours to perform (longer than even some Wagnerian operas) and contains over 1600 characters, each requiring a unique costume.
So, in a bid to ensure that we all get home sometime before autumn kicks in, the troupe have applied a red pen to quite a bit of the folio text and present a much abridged version featuring a central plot line of a merry war between Puck and Ariel, two magical characters from A Midsummer Night’s Dream which allows them to weave a narrative around this and The Comedy of Errors, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, Much Ado About Nothing and The Tempest and the time to showcase a few of Shakespeare’s minor, more crowd-pleasing characters.
The script is tight and not a word wasted with the thee actors, Reed Martin, Teddy Spencer and Austin Tichenor flipping between 16th and 21st century iambic pentameter, the latter featuring some wonderful mash-ups of Shakespeare’s more memorable quotes and some genuinely groan-worthy puns.
And it’s high-energy stuff – acting 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.
With so much ground to cover and so few actors, it’s a helter-skelter of entrances, exits and very, very quick costume changes so due credit must go to costume designer Skipper Skeoch for creating the thirty or forty outfits that the trio somehow donned and shed and to the backstage crew for ensuring that no-one appeared without their trousers, or other vital apparel.
Inventive, imaginative, engaging. Shakespeare aficionados in particular will not want to miss this when it tours the UK next year. Check out their web page for updates.