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Shakespeare Comes to Life

Mention Shakespeare to anyone and they will recall their school days reading and re-reading excruciating, incomprehensible essays -- unable to understand why the establishment thought the bard was so great.

Thankfully, the Reduced Shakespeare Co from the United States has come to the rescue and mercilessly savaged his works, cramming all 37 of his plays into their achingly funny show entitled The Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged).

It is a hilarious journey through all of Shakespeare's plays and even a few minutes are devoted to his 154 sonnets.

The London Times described the show as "stupendous, anchorless joy!"

Incidentally, this play premiered at the Edinburgh Festival in 1987 before winning the prestigious Olivier Award for Best New Comedy and going down in history as the longest-running comedy at London's West End.

Now, the show is coming to Beijing to participate in the First Beijing International Drama Festival, which runs from September 26 to October 16. It will be on stage from September 28 through to October 1 in the China Children's Theatre in downtown Beijing.

Cameron B. Malacari, the main producer of the musical Cats, which was supposed to appear in Beijing last May, will join the production team.

The Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged) is an ambitious and witty production that attempts "to capture, in a single theatrical experience the magic, the genius, the towering grandeur of the complete works of William Shakespeare," said Shea Lin, professor and Shakespeare expert at the China Central Academy of Drama.

Most importantly, people do not need a degree in Shakespeare to enjoy the play. The show appeals to all kinds of people -- those who like Shakespeare and those who do not.

If you like Shakespeare, it is so much fun to see all of the different shows presented in different ways, some more comprehensively produced than others, of course.

If you do not like Shakespeare, then it is fun to see it in a way that you can easily grasp.

"The entertainment value of Shakespeare is often forgotten. People think of it as a work of literature when it's a work of entertainment," said Zhang Kexin, the Chinese presenter of the show from Chanson Culture Communications Co Ltd.

"Shakespeare was right for everybody. He wrote for nobles, kings and completely illiterate people. He made comedy for the masses."

Written by Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield, founders of the Reduced Shakespeare Co, the show is a zany approach to works that are usually presented with more respect and reverence.

Three actors -- Ezra Bix, Craig Ilott and Tim Schwerdt -- each of equal genius and wit, speak the bard's language in the same breath as they clown around in their gowns and wigs along with their latter-day sneakers.

They successfully portray their roles both as themselves and as their multitude of characters with a degree of seriousness appropriate to anybody attempting to cram 120 hours of theatre shows into a less than 100-minute play.

It begins with a short introduction that not only explains the play's purpose but also sets the atmosphere.

Then comes the condensed Romeo and Juliet, where the fight scenes look like they are being viewed through trick photography in an action movie, and it finally ends with multiple versions of Hamlet.

In between are the various interpretations of Shakespeare's other 35 plays including Othello in rap and Titus Andronicus as a TV cooking show. All the history plays are transformed into a weekend televised football game.

It also allows for audience participation, including a passage where they drag a patron out to play a screaming Ophelia as the audience provides a motivational background of id, ego and superego cheers.

The background crew also contributes to the humour, introducing props, lighting and sound. The soundtrack -- which is surprisingly comprised of offbeat clips such as "Who Let the Dogs Out?" -- also adds to the wacky atmosphere of the show.

China Children's Theatre
Tel: 65129689
Add: No. 64, Dong'anmen Street  (Take the bus 2、58、60 or 819 and get down at Donghuamen Station )
Time: September 28 -- October 1  19:30
Price: 380 Yuan, 280 Yuan, 180 Yuan, 120 Yuan, 80 Yuan (about US$ 45.9 - 9.7)

(China Daily September 27, 2003)

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