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The Straits Times Review : Reducing Shakespeare's works is funny business but proves Bard is still current hit

The industrial feel of the set and thumping garage soundtrack are vestiges of the production that might have been at Pasir Panjang Power Station. The Singapore Repertory Theatre's staging was postponed due to tightened Covid-19 measures and has moved back to the company's cosy space in Merbau Road.

This comic chestnut by the Reduced Shakespeare Company, which first performed it here in 1992, is an evergreen for both Shakespeare nuts and newbies. The aficionados will appreciate the knowledge that girds the silliness, while newcomers will enjoy the irreverent humour that demystifies the Bard for a new generation.

The script itself has been updated in this staging, the first to boast an entirely homegrown cast. Actors Erwin Shah Ismail, Tia Andrea Guttensohn, Shane Mardjuki and Dennis Sofian work up a nice camaraderie as well as a seemingly endless supply of energy powering through 36 plays in 97 minutes.

You know it is exactly 97 minutes because there is a digital clock ticking down on the set as well as a ticker tape display that counts down the number of plays covered as the scenes unfold.

The core comic centrepieces remain: an easy introduction with an abridged Romeo And Juliet, an appallingly hilarious remake of Titus Andronicus as a cooking show, and Hamlet played fast forward and backwards.

Guttensohn adds a welcome breath of fresh air to the previously testosterone-heavy takes on The Complete Works that this reviewer has seen. She makes a meal out of the running joke that female characters get few lines in this script, demanding her share of airtime as Ophelia. But she does get to play a slinky Cleopatra, delivering a speech about Emperor Antony before other cast members show up in snakeskin bodysuits for a dance routine.

The humour runs the gamut from adolescent - Erwin gets a cheap laugh running out with balloons hanging from his costume as Juliet's nurse - to fairly sophisticated - the summing up of Shakespeare's 16 comedies into one long routine is actually a savvy practical criticism exercise in spotting his favourite formulas.

Erwin and Mardjuki prove adept at switching from serious to silly, from proper recitation of soliloquies to diverse bouts of dance choreography to an athletic swordfight.

The Bard's works may have been written 400 years ago but this entertaining revue proves he never gets old.

This review was written by Ong Sor Fern, Senior Culture Correspondent at The Straits Times. The Complete Works Of William Shakespeare runs till 5 Dec 2021 at KC Arts Centre – Home of SRT.

Click here to read the full review on The Straits Times

Published on: 25-11-2021