>the complete works of william shakepspeare (abridged) by dbs theatre fantasy

>reviewed by arthur kok

>date: 8 may 2002
>time: 8pm
>venue: dbs arts centre
>rating: ****

>tired already? go home then
>review junkie? whitney, give them this click to sniff

>look, we know that you need to know that we, as responsible reviewers, have some quantifiable categories to rate productions, and are not just relying on some undefinable instinct or gut feeling. So to put your mind at ease, we will give you a logical rating system based on the practitioner's vision / and the reviewer's response of a particular production. Here it is then: ***** : Transcendent / Rapturous. ****: Crystal / Appreciative. ***: Transmitted / Thoughtful. **:Vague / Unsatisfied. * : Uncommunicated / Mystified. Yet in the end, you will feel that this is (1) a cheap attempt to justify the subjective arbitrariness of our rating system (2) buttressed by an interest in the logical (and inevitable) categorisation of such productions, which is (3) undermined by the cheapness of the attempt, and (4) confused by the creeping feeling you are getting that we are dead serious in our feeling that this rating system is an accurate description of the content, intent and quality of the production. Oh please -- does it even matter now? Look, at least we tried.


Shakespeare wrote always with his public in mind: noblemen, merchants, servants, Moors, Jews, Christians, revellers, wise men and fools saw themselves in the bard's imagined histories and myths. As sharp social commentary wrapped up in entertainment, Shakespeare's performed works became the Trojan horse of Elizabethan society. The bard's insight is not lost when contemporary companies stage productions which remain true to the (agreed upon) 'original' text. Take the word-perfect performances by The Royal Shakespeare Company and the BBC. These productions become touchstones for our societies' peculiarities. Nonetheless, to make Shakespeare immediately accessible or relevant, others have undertaken to infuse specific socio-historical markers, if not utterly rework some aspects of the play. Recent celluloid offerings such as 'Romeo + Juliet', 'Titus' and 'O' come to mind.

Taking the process of interpretation to absurd lengths, THE COMPLETE WORKS OF WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE (ABRIDGED) stands peerless. The backdrop comprises tapestry loud with titles in graffiti. Elizabethan stage wear is teamed with hose in electric hues and Converse sneakers. Among many other literary devices, references to blockbuster movies (one involving a motel voyeur and another a certain human arachnid) are thrown in with sidesplitting results. Even the knowing asides characteristic of Shakespeare are blown up into wild segments of audience participation. Most of the time, whole lines and phrases which have become part of the collective consciousness are deliciously preserved but delivered with bathetic urgency. Fortunately, one famous soliloquy from 'Hamlet' was purposefully delivered with the wonderment and gravity with which it was originally conceived, to grateful applause. All this, and all of Shakespeare's 37 plays (minus 'Coriolanus' deemed too obscene to stage) in 97 minutes!

>>'Taking the process of interpretation to absurd lengths, THE COMPLETE WORKS OF WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE (ABRIDGED) stands peerless.'

Managing this mammoth task with ridiculous ease, Rob Carlton, Berynn Schwerdt and Tim Schwerdt showed off the 'power of three'. They acted as themselves (present day scholar-entertainers) acting out the dizzying range of characters that peoples the bard's whimsy. Rob possessed a maturity that lent a certain comic irony when he played youthful roles. With a brilliant albeit incomprehensible treatise on Shakespeare, he spoofed the intellectualisation at work in scholarly circles. Berynn, the tallest of the three, and looking the most ridiculous in his red tights and carefully groomed moustache, made us laugh uncomfortably along with him as he and his 'butter stumps' lackey whipped up a batch of human brain pie (or something like that). You can guess which play that alluded to! His best moment belonged to his overwrought take on Hamlet. Every psychotic spasm worked! Initially, it seemed as though Tim was lagging behind his fellow thespians in energy. But it was all a set up. As the playful, too eager, and usually misinformed student of 17th Century life, Tim farted and vomited his way to become a most offensively endearing cross-dresser.

While much of ABRIDGED rushed through most of the 36 plays (remember 'Coriolanus'?), two of Shakespeare's most familiar works book-ended the show. 'Romeo and Juliet' and 'Hamlet' had the privilege of respectively starting and ending the evening. This was perhaps a nod to a feature of Shakespeare's plays - his blatant pandering to the masses. These two plays are indelibly etched whether whole or in part upon the hearts and minds of Shakespeare lovers. In a way, ABRIDGED had the juicy bits of Shakespeare scrupulously retained but always with irreverence and wit. The 'Works' are not so much distilled as they are thrown into a blender with loads of knowing camp.