Bury St Edmunds: Behind the scenes of the Reduced Shakespeare Company’s historical hijinks

The Reduced Shakespeare Company. Photo by Karl Andre Smit

The Reduced Shakespeare Company. Photo by Karl Andre Smit - Credit: Archant

The “other” RSC needn’t feel threatened laughs William Meredith of The Reduced Shakespeare Company. Both may tackle the same subjects, but their approaches are completely different kettles of fish.

Boasting all 37 Plays in 97 minutes, with the same recycled jokes just in a different order, he says The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) is perfect for today’s society, where everyone usually has their face in their phone or tablet.

“The good thing about our shows is the pace, the energy, doesn’t allow for that. Okay, some of our jokes are as old as time, we take full responsibility for that but they’re classics so we’re going to keep telling them.

“The pace is what makes it work, we’ll tell a joke and just as you think you’re about to get the punchline we’re moving on to the next. We’re not going to give you a chance to wonder if you’ve received a text or email.”

Breaking it down and spoon-feeding the more attention challenged audience members with little tidbits, he laughs, as well as skipping straight to the sex, violence and all the other things that grab the attention helps because it can all seem intimidating if you try to attack it using the original text.

“If you’re thinking ‘gosh Shakespeare, I don’t know anything about that’ it doesn’t matter. If you’re a huge fan of Shakespeare you’re going to appreciate the comedy coming out of subjects you know well and a new take on something you hadn’t really thought of before - I found his tragedies are funnier than his comedies.

“This (show) is a good starting point to see if (you think) ‘hey, you know what, these stories actually sound pretty interesting, I’m going to take a closer look’.”

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With loads of slapstick and comedy, expect a very physical show.

“You could literally wring out our costumes after it,” laughs Meredith, who says the company has been kicking around an idea for a spin-off show set backstage for years.

“There’s only three of us on stage so we play a whole slew of characters which is great fun. It’d be interesting if you were to turn the stage 90 degrees so the audience could see the front and back and see what happens because there are props flying around everywhere, mad fast changes - there’s really a show within itself backstage.

“In the original days they didn’t have convenient things like Velcro, which makes it easier to get (costumes) on and off,” he laughs. “I don’t know if I could’ve lived in those times.”

The Reduced Shakespeare Company’s first three shows - The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged), The Complete History of America (abridged) and The Bible: The Complete Word of God (abridged) - enjoyed a nine-year run at the Criterion Theatre in Piccadilly Circus.

Not only were they London’s longest-running comedies, but at one point they had more shows running in the West End than Andrew Lloyd Webber. Jokingly not recommended for Shakespearean scholars or people with degrees in Elizabethan history, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) comes to Bury St Edmunds’ Theatre Royal on June 19.

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