Review: The Reduced Shakespeare Company perform The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, Stroud

The Reduced Shakespeare Company | Photo credit: Karl Andre Photography

The Reduced Shakespeare Company | Photo credit: Karl Andre Photography - Credit: Archant

Katie Jarvis went to see the Reduced Shakespeare Company performing The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, Abridged [Revised] in Stroud. If you think Shakespeare’s comedies are funny, just wait until you see his tragedies.

The real tragedy of Sunday night in Stroud, watching the RSC (not that one) performing the complete works of Shakespeare (not those, exactly) was that local school children had already sat their GCSE English literature.

Cruelty, thy name is AQA.

The thing is, you can only get so far in understanding the Bard by reading SparkNotes and - in extreme circumstances – Shakespeare’s original texts. (“2B or not 2B. Dat’s da ? LOL”; sadly, so few youngsters today understand that Shakespeare wrote texts.)

But no one gets to the heart of a play like the RSC (not that one) do. No one mentions the sonnets and poems - they mentioned them - like the RSC (not that one) do.

And no one asks the questions that GCSE examiners consistently fail to address year after year after year:

• Did Juliet vomit after drinking poison?

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• Did Gertrude vomit after drinking poison?

The RSC (not that one) stared vomit in the face. It was spectacular.

I’ve only seen the RSC (not that one) once before, performing The Bible: The Complete Word of God (abridged). It was so outrageously funny that I instantly burned my programme and made enquiries about moving to Texas.

But the RSC (not that one)’s shortened version of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, Abridged [revised] is their seminal production. A lot of it relies on how much the audience knows of the plays already. Thus, pre-eminent Shakespeare scholar Gary Fannin began by asking how many of us had read or seen even one Shakespeare play. When all the audience raised their hands, he panicked. “S**t!” he cried, running off the stage.

“But I thought you were an eminent Shakespeare scholar?” Matthew Pearson yelled after him.

“PRE-eminent,” Gary called back, from somewhere much further away.

And so we were led briefly through Will’s life, thanks to the Wiki skills of David Ellis, learning that he’d been born in War-wick-shire, and finally had invaded Poland in 1939, initiating the start of the Second World War.

We were taken through the subtlety of the comedies for which, in a move of unparalleled brilliance, Shakespeare chose the same plot, allowing all 16 to be rolled into one.

The tragedies were, if anything, even more moving, though we’re essentially using this phrase in a colonic medium. Romeo’s cry of “Call me but love,” meant that, indeed, he was referred to as ‘Butt-love’ throughout the rest of the play, an inference lost for many centuries but which casts important new light on his close friendship with Mercutio.

The highlight of the evening was Hamlet, of course. The reason behind Hamlet’s disturbing bouts of insanity was made far more clear when the ghost of his late father appeared as a sock with a crudely-drawn face. Again, this could cast new light on Hamlet’s quote, “My father’s brother, but no more like my father/Than I to Hercules.”

Almost unbearable was the scene portraying the tragedy of Ophelia, who dies after deliberately spraying herself in the face with a small amount of water.

It’s a shame that we missed out on the iconic To be or not to be speech, though the audience acknowledged its own insensitivity to be the major cause of Gary’s breakdown.

As with all excellent Shakespeare productions, we’re left with more questions than answers. Perhaps, above all for me, the vomit issue remains among the most vivid. Take Lady Macbeth, for example: Blood was a good first effort, but how vastly improved would the scene have been with a touch of nausea instead:

Here’s the smell of the vomit still: all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand. Oh, oh, oh!

Not only more memorable, but something Spot could surely have helped out with.

Indeed. The greatest tragedy of all is that the RSC (not that one) weren’t around to advise the Bard. How great could English literature have been…

• For a complete list of tour dates for the Reduced Shakespeare Company – including Malvern Theatres on July 9 – visit