Last evening we went to see our first show as part of the Shakespeare Festival at Tulane, The Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged). The Reduced Shakespeare Company’s parody had its first outing with their version of Hamlet back in 1981 and had reached its still much-internationally-performed form by the mid 1980s. The show requires just three actors, so it’s eminently and economically producible. It is characterised by quick costume changes, an improvisatory quality, audience involvement, and the space it allows for the incorporation of local references and quips as might be best appropriate for a particular audience. The Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged) played at the Criterion Theatre in London’s West End for 9 years. Somehow I’d managed to avoid it until last evening. At the beginning of the show, one of the actors, apparently wanting to guage how well the audience knew their Shakespeare asked for a show of hands. Had we ever seen a Shakespeare play? Many hands went up. Had anyone ever seen King John? Many hands went down. The other Paul and I were left a little exposed at this point and, when pressed from the stage, admitted that we’d both read and seen King John. And so the evening got underway. As the succession of broad and verbal comedy unfurled before me, I was reminded of vaudeville and farce, and of the long distinguished tradition of Shakespearian parody, perhaps beginning as early as George Chapman, Ben Jonson and John Marston’s Eastward Ho! (1605) which jokingly includes a character called Hamlet. But this was Shakespeare parody New Orleans style, knowing gumbo served with aplomb and devoured with relish. After the show we had the pleasure of interviewing the cast who you can hear in this soundpost, in order of appearance: Clint Johnson, Andrew Vaught and Brendan Bowen. They talk to us about the nature of parody, how their performances relate to the Tulane festival’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Clint is playing Puck, and Brendan, Snout), and why New Orleans reminds them of Shakespeare’s London.
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