Breaking down the Bard
Rosheen Fatima plunges into the raunchy, fast-paced romp exploring the works of the English bard.
'Boring’, ‘I don’t understand’ and ‘I don’t like that kinda thing’ are just a few of the comments when I ask people whether they like Shakespeare. But the bulk of them can’t follow up with an experience of reading Shakespeare voluntarily, and admit to being forced to study it in high school or college. Understandably, Shakespeare gets a pretty bad rep. However, seeing that he is considered one of the world’s greatest writers and his works have been translated into virtually every language, the Bard’s work can’t possibly be that bad, right?
Polonius – in Shakespeare’s Hamlet – says this at the end of a rather long monologue: ‘Therefore, since brevity is the soul of wit and tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes, I will be brief: your noble son is mad.’ One would wonder why he beat around the bush before getting to the point, ironically, even after chastising himself for wasting time. This is quite typical of Shakespeare’s characters. They really seem to love the sound of their own voice. Written for an aural society, Shakespeare’s plays were meant to be listened to and watched, rather than read. A common tip that you will hear when starting on the Bard’s work is to ‘read it out loud’, which does help you understand the meaning of the words to some extent. But I must admit, I still felt that I needed a translator.
When it comes to the English theatre community worldwide, Shakespeare is considered a necessary foundation for actors, with many productions and academic programmes requiring an audition monologue from one of his plays. The Malaysian scene too has had its fair share of Shakespearean productions, most recently 'Shakespeare Demystified: Merchant of Venice' (now showing until Mar 3, see listings) and last September's ‘Much Ado About Nothing'. The team behind 'Shakespeare Demystified' has taken this need for a translator of sort when presenting Shakespeare to the audience, and have staged two shows ('Julius Ceasar' in June 2011 and 'Merchant of Venice') using a narrator. The narrator guides the audience through some of the more difficult aspects in understanding Shakespeare; translating and explaining the language and the culture of the Bard's times when the need arises.
This month sees a similar breaking down of Shakespeare's work into quirky bite-sized morsels that won't scare off Shakespeare newbies, in the play 'The Compleat Wrks of Wllm Shkspr (Abridged)'. Using an updated version of a script that was originally written in 1987 by The Reduced Shakespeare Company, The Actors Studio's artistic director Joe Hasham is directing the notoriously wacky, yet critically acclaimed production (Time Out London called it 'Shamelessly heretical!' and The New York Times claimed it to be 'Pithier than Python. Irresistible.'). Featuring the same cast as Someone Who'll Watch Over SWWOM) – Charles Donnely, Kingsley Judd and Gavin Yap – Joe explains that that 'After SWWOM, because it is a gut-wrenching and emotional play, I really wanted something crazy. I wanted something that was fun, and for the three actors, this seemed ideal. It is the total opposite of SWWOM.'
A 97-minute rollercoaster through all 37 Shakespeare plays, the production is a fast paced, hyperactive ride that brings to mind toddlers on a sugar rush. The play premiered at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 1987 and then went on to play for ten years in the West End, holding the record for London's longest running comedy. Over the years, to keep the script up to date, there have been many ammendments made by the writer's themselves. 'We are doing the updated revised script and we will be making only minor changes to update the script, but we won't be localising it,' Joe explains.
The script was written to cater to both sides of the Shakespeare divide, whether or not you are familiar with his work. The condensed versions that the cast will present are given a modern edge, making it easy for the gist of the story to be understood. 'Those who know Shakespeare will enjoy it on two levels; they will appreciate how Shakespeare is being made fun of and they will also be entertained,' Joe laughs, 'and those who are not so familiar with Shakespeare will enjoy the madness that happens on-stage.' So what better way to pop your Shakespeare cherry than a raunchy ride through the Bard's bests?
The Compleat Wrks of Wllm Shkspr (Abridged) will stage at Pentas 2, KLPac from Mar 21-25. See listing for more info.