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Comedy based on Bard's works set to make Beijing debut

By Chen Nan | China Daily | Updated: 2016-11-21 08:10

Comedy based on Bard's works set to make Beijing debut

Reduced Shakespeare Company is touring China with a composite play inspired by the playwright's many works.[Photo provided to China Daily]

It has been almost 30 years since the US comedy troupe Reduced Shakespeare Company's show, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged), made its debut. It has been running in London for almost 10 years, making it the longest running comedy in the city's theater history.

Now, the troupe of directors and actors Austin Tichenor, Reed Martin and Dan Saski, is bringing the show to Beijing for the first time.

In 2014, the show was performed at the second Wuzhen Theater Festival, an annual international event in the town of Wuzhen in East China's Zhejiang province.

The audience adored the show, and like those who have seen the show in 14 countries they were laughing, surprised and delighted.

Written by the founding members of the troupe, Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield, the show is a 97-minute composite of 37 Shakespearean plays like Romeo and Juliet, Othello and Macbeth.

"I think the show works very well. It's an irreverent celebration of Shakespeare. It's silly and funny and smart. We like to say that if you like Shakespeare, you'll like the show and if you hate Shakespeare you'll love the show. To be honest, you don't need to know anything at all about Shakespeare to find the show absolutely hilarious," says Martin, who joined the troupe in 1989.

Each of the three members plays about 12 to 15 characters in the show so there are a lot of quick costume changes. Sometimes mistakes happen and this is usually pretty funny for the audience. If something goes wrong, they just keep going and make a joke about it.

The audience is, collectively, the fourth member of the troupe. The actors come into the audience and ask them questions. They get the audience to help in the telling of the story.

"Our goal is to be funny but ... we like to have a serious moment to show the audience that we could do it seriously if we wanted to. We try to highlight the most famous plays and characters from Shakespeare-the parts the audiences are most likely to be familiar with," Martin says.

Since the show tours globally, the troupe also incorporates local references into the script.

For example, at the Wuzhen Theater Festival two years ago, they had Hamlet making the famous "to be or not to be" remark in Chinese. Audiences loved it.

Since the troupe was founded in 1981, it has been known for taking long, serious topics and turning them into short, sharp comedies, such as The Complete History of America, The Bible: The Complete Word of God and Completely Hollywood.

According to Martin, the troupe first started by performing outdoors and doing short versions of Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet and usually asked the audience to donate money at the end of the show.

"That's how our fast, funny and physical style developed. We had to hold the audience's attention at all times because if they walked away before the show was over then they would not be able to give us any money," Martin says.

The troupe recently premiered their 10th show, William Shakespeare's Long Lost First Play in the United States.

"We like to call Shakespeare 'America's greatest living playwright' even though he's not alive and not really American. His plays continue to live. Shakespeare truly belongs to every country," says Martin.

If you go

7:30 pm, Nov 25; 2:30 pm and 7:30 pm, Nov 26. Tianqiao Performing Arts Center, 9 Tianqiao South Street, Xicheng district, Beijing. 400-635-3355.

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