Youthful energy triumphs in slick, smart show
There are few theatrical productions in which the reviewer tells the cast during the performance,“this is going to be a really good review”.
But flattery for audience participation goes a long way and this is one of the successes of Evolution Theatre Company's snot-bubblingly funny production, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged). The audience is engaged with the actors throughout. The show has an intimacy, a familiarity, an ease between stage and audience, much like that of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre. Production manager Dinna Myers set design even quietly references the Globe stage.
Before they take on the roles of a multitude of characters across 37 plays in 97 minutes, actors Tyler Krutz, Callum McConnochie and talented newcomer Arthur Haereroa introduce themselves by their own names. References in the play are local and topical. The Elizabeth Boyce-directed show could be taking place in the comfort of your living room. Except such comical mayhem hasn't been seen since the Cat in the Hat's home-invasion and it's best that carry-on stays in the theatre. By the end of the production the auditorium floor is littered with what looks like corn, pea and carrot vomit, a strangled programme and some flowers.
The play's plot, such as it is, is really an excuse to give actors an opportunity to cut loose on a high-energy, surprisingly informative, but absurdly funny rollick through Shakespeare's plays.
The Complete Works of William Shakespeare's conceit is that Haereroa's stuffy “expert” on Shakespeare aims to explicate on each of the playwright's plays. So the cast of three present an abridged version of the tragedies, comedies, histories and difficult plays. From there the high-energy, barely contained chaos is unstoppable. It fills the theatre, it makes use of the whole space so the audience is part of the show. From the pantomimic bloodiness of Titus Andronicus as cooking show, through the kilted golfers' showdown in the play Macbeth to a multi-faceted presentation of Hamlet, the audience gets a surprising insight into each of the plays.
With roles such as Krutz's sonorous Polonius, the pedantic dad in Hamlet, and McConnochie's obnoxious, nasal King Claudius, the two actors are well-matched. Krutz also portrays a mildly acerbic, sometimes effete MC while McConnochie cross-dresses for all the women's roles. After stepping out of his part as the stilted lecturer at the beginning of the show Haereroa comes into his own particularly as vengeful General Titus Andronicus in the cooking show Gory Gourmet and as mad prince Hamlet.
The second half broadens and deepens while ramping up the absurdity and it is at this point the cast will need to maintain the pace and projection of the first act. Having said that, a full house is sure to be the wind beneath the actors' wings.
Unexpectedly, the often neglected rhythm of Shakespeare's language, a hallmark of London's Globe Theatre productions under Mark Rylance, seems natural to the three young actors. Also unexpected is McConnochie's hair-prickling delivery of Hamlet's existential, but depressed, world view in which “this goodly frame, the earth, seems to me a sterile promontory”.
Even more natural to the trio is the knockabout physicality, the ridiculously fast changes in and out of Myers' beautifully tailored costumes, and the clear-cut persona of each character.
The Complete Works is fun, it's educational and wildly absurd. Audiences will leave the theatre both a little smarter and bubbling with silliness.