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FringeReview UK 2016

The Shakespeare Revue

Kenny Wax Ltd and Cambridge Arts Theatre

Genre: Cabaret, Classical and Shakespeare, Comedic, Contemporary, Devised, Mainstream Theatre, Musical Theatre, Sketch Comedy, Theatre

Venue: Theatre Royal Brighton


Low Down

Kenny Wax Ltd and Cambridge Arts Theatre produce Christopher Luscombe’s and Malcolm McKee’s revival of their original RSC The Shakespeare Revue, with Malcolm McKee still directing as well as leading from the piano. Cast includes Nicola Keen who’s re-choreographed, also adding new material alongside fellow cast member Clive Hayward. The cast’s completed with Lizzie Bea and Alex Morgan. Simple staging and lighting design by Ric Mountjoy.


Christopher Luscombe’s and Malcolm McKee revive their original RSC The Shakespeare Revue, now produced by Kenny Wax Ltd and Cambridge Arts Theatre.


Malcolm McKee’s still directing as well as leading from the piano, with a team including Nicola Keen from the original tour, who’s re-choreographed Jenny Arnold’s original show, also adding material alongside Clive Hayward and others to bring the show up to last week’s news with local references – and train timetables. The cast’s completed with Lizzie Bea and Alex Morgan. Simple staging and lighting design by Ric Mountjoy throw everything on these five performers.


They’re a consummate delight in this now rarest of forms; a tight song-and-dance of words. New material sizzles, inserted towards the end, the whole box of Bards from Bernard Levin’s Quoting Shakespeare to McKee’s arrangement of Shakespeare lines for a musical lights-out dances on the edge of hilarity before falling headlong into it.


Patrick Barlow’s obsession with Shakespeare’s father and the son’s obsessive glovers’ motif skims to a sketch on a courtier returning to find not only the Hamlet cast dead but everyone who survived it popping off. It recalls Robert Robinson’s Eight Minute Ibsen Tragedy when each character ventures out into snow and the remainder intone ‘Father has fallen into the ice’ and so on till no-one’s left.


Morgan and Hayward knock off the Masterclass of Laurie and Fry, and even more their Flanagan and Allen routine in John Cooper’s Kings Ain’t What They Used to Be. Sandy Wilson’s pretty preppy Give Us a Rest about Shakespeare’s characters wanting oblivion would agree: ‘We’re fed up with being acted, And we’d like to be subtracted, From the repertoire of every company.’


One of Morgan’s star turns is the Monty Python sketch of the man who speaks in Shakespearean anagrams; watch for Spoonerisms.


Nicola Keen’s superb pedigree as dancer choreographer and above all here singer strikes a coloratura brilliance in The Heroine the Opera House Forgot, mainly parodic off-cuts of Verdi treated by Laurence Philips and again McKee. Cleopatra despite appearances from Carry On Cleo to Liz Taylor has never had an opera about her; it’s reimagined as a superb diva moment full of strut and flurry. Keen’s sovereign in this genre, where superb acting underpins an opera-house standard voice.


The premise incidentally isn’t true. Samuel Barber (he of the Adagio) wrote Antony and Cleopatra for the Met in 1965. It bombed. And Berlioz wrote at least a scene The Death of Cleopatra, as his very fine Opus 1. But yes Verdi didn’t write Cleopatra, just as he never quite wrote his promised Lear.


And there’s Lizzie Bea singing ‘Fear No More the Heat o’ the Sun’ from Cymbeline, utterly straight, Sondheim’s music underpinning his dark swing of music theatre. Some who saw the Globe Imogen Renamed will reflect that this very lyric excised from the play, when other songs were added, could very easily adopt this rendition to allay the sense of amputation that production caused.


Though Victoria Wood’s masterly Giving Notes with a parachuted-in director giving notes to local Welsh amateurs about a six hour Hamlet rehearsing for eight months stops the show, it’s Bea’s Carrying a Torch (for the boy who carries a spear) that’s the most sheerly affecting thing in the first half; it’s not the only torch from Bea.


Maureen Lipman’s PC or Not PC kicks off attitudes through to the famous Alan Bennett sketch (with Cook, Moore, Miller) ‘Hie thee to Gloucester, Sussex..’ ending immortally ‘And now I’ll take me to my bed/to forget all that rubbish I’ve just said.’


Clive Hayward sterling with his voice as anchor for zanies here and elsewhere takes on Tom Lehrer’s revision of William Hargreaves’ vegetable-rich The Night I Appeared as Macbeth. He takes superbly too that parody of Sir Donald Wolfitt in Ronald Harwood’s The Dresser which by chance recently played here, the wartime curtain-call speech, stabbing a near-confusion of Shakespearean lead roles in one week. Indeed in Alan Melville’s sketch of repertory actors Keen obdurately plays Lady Macbeth in the Romeo and Juliet balcony scene to Morgan’s hapless Romeo confused by ‘take these breasts for gall’ and other anatomical surprises from a young adolescent.


It’s body parts Keen and Bea take a delight in, that Henry V scene of the French princess trying to get the body’s labelling right ending in a riot of salacious words, the audience exhorted to repeat on a Music-Hall placard. So if ‘mount’ is rhymed with ‘count’ you’ll fall to the accent pretty well.


A cascade of topical references that will change from month to month shouldn’t be spoilt but come thick and lightning-bolted in the closing minutes. And the GCSE answers. So here’s one not included to give a flavour. Caesar remembers when Antony ‘didst drink the stale of horses’ in the desert. This was without irony paraphrased as ‘Caesar remembers when he and Antony went out drinking horses’ urine together.’ No, not GCSE, and meant in deadly earnest. This was a fellow graduate student at Cambridge recalling a public school undergraduate there trying to construe Shakespeare. Less shocking but more funny, you’ll need to hear those GCSE answers yourself but try to guess where the genre of hysterectomies come from.


Gentler sketches like Derek Nimmo and his anecdotes contrast with the pizzazz of the great ‘Brush Up Your Shakespeare’, Cole Porter’s standout ensemble piece, originally a couple of hoods from Kiss Me Kate.


And then the gender-bending collapse, hurried on by boys pretending to be girls acted by boys; gentle, wholly subversive readings, they guy tradition with tradition. There’s naturally far more of this, but also the valedictory like McKee’s music to Caryl Brahms and Ned Sherrin’s Ladies of London four of whom remember Falstaff, Morgan always snaking the last flounce.


McKee’s quiet and uproarious virtuosity underscores literally how much he’s kept energy moving, so crisp are the flickr-like coruscation of numbers following each other with snappy routines that Keen’s reimagined for this tour, and the spaces it might encounter.


This one fills with applause. Short, sinfully sweet, but somehow smuggling more than Shakespearean truth in its tap-dancing and sudden fade-out. For all the crisply riotous assembly, there’s more than a touch of pathos and gentleness, even mortality about the way this show understands shadows thrown by violent laughter.