Fly the scene

8th March 1996 at 00:00
It is exactly what it says. The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged): the 37 plays (including The Two Noble Kinsmen) in 97 minutes. It is presented by all three members of the RSC - that is, the Reduced Shakespeare Company. They're American and when the audience is incited to boo them, they immediately throw back the threat to return and win a third World War for us.

Admittedly some of the plays are touched on but briefly. The histories are turned into a game of American football with a crown for a ball being passed from quarterback to hunchback. The comedies are conflated into a single tale of identical siblings, woodland elopements, mistaken identity, shipwrecks and cross-dressing: Four Weddings and a Transvestite.

But, as the frenetically hard-working cast concede, the comedies aren't as funny as the tragedies and therefore much of the evening is given over to Romeo and Hamlet. The latter includes some of the most hilarious audience participation into which I've ever been coerced as different groups of us are made to act out Ophelia's id and ego. You can spot the drama teachers. They're the ones who cringe with embarrassed recognition when the cast stop the proceedings with gorgeous intensity: "Let's workshop this."

Adam Long, David Letwin and Matthew Hendrikson may appear deceptively amateurish. They are in fact masters of comic timing and brilliant farceurs. Yes, you need to know your Shakespeare to get every joke but it is still an unmissable entertainment. As one of the cast says, "I love performance art. It's so . . . pretentious."

At London's Criterion Theatre. Tickets: 0171 369 1737344 4444

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