Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Complete History of Comedy, Reduced Shakespeare Company

Excuse me while I blow the dust off my screen. 

I don't think I have ever gone so long without a blog post since I first started!  A combination of 2 of the busiest weeks at work in my annual work cycle directly followed by a temperature of 101.66F and a seriously nasty bout of suspected gastroenteritis, play week for Charley's Aunt, the in-laws visiting for the Easter weekend and a bit of bloggers block (I have had absolutely no creative inspiration at all recently, it seems to have all been diverted into areas which actually pay my bills, sorry) has meant a whole host of draft posts just sitting in my planner, filled with pictures and absolutely no end material.


I'm back now though so let's start to catch up!  The 3 week gap does mean that a few of these events happened a little while ago...sorry...this won't exactly be real time blogging for a bit, but we have to start somewhere!

As I mentioned, Charley's Aunt has now finished, so I get my evenings back.  Whoohoo!  At least for the time being.  We are actually doing The Complete Works of Shakespeare (Reduced) next, with RV in the directors chair, so, as part of his very serious 'research' (and not an excuse for a jolly to the theatre at all) he suggested we head up to the Gulbenkian to see The Reduced Shakespeare Company perform The Complete History of Comedy. 
For purely serious research purposes you understand.

So it was on the 1st March (I said there was a bit of a backlog), on a Sunday evening before the start of the working week, a large group of us dutifully filed into the Gulbenkian to take our seats and be entertained with a rip roaring stomp through comedy through the ages.
I have had the absolute pleasure of seeing The Reduced Shakespeare Company twice before, once when I was about 15 and watched them perform The Complete Works Of Shakespeare (Abridged) and once in my early twenties when I watched them perform the Bible (Abridged).

Both times I have been doubled over in my seat, completely helpless and crying with laughter, desperately clutching my stomach to try and alleviate the laughter cramps that are shooting across my abdomen.

For those of you who haven't heard of them (seriously, where have you been?!) they are the company that perform all 37 of Shakespeare's plays in 97 minutes, including Hamlet 3 times.  Once of which is backwards.  They are a three man troupe that dart in and out of roles with slick brevity, using a cap or a moustache to convey a change.  The stage was littered with roosters and scarves, caps and swords by the time they had finished in previous shows. 
Originally from California, the RSC have an impressive comedy pedigree, boasting the longest running comedy show in London, 7 stage shows, 2 television specials and numerous radio pieces that have been heard the world over.  Other tours include Western Civilisation (Abridged), Sports (Abridged), America (Abridged), Books (Abridged)....you get the idea.  If something has a long, complicated history with a huge amount of material to cover, The Reduced Shakespeare Company will roll their sleeves up and have at it with gusto.
The Complete History of Comedy took us on an irreverent ride through, well, the Complete History of Comedy.  They poked fun at the high brow and the low, from the Ancient Greeks (hello Aristophanes) to Shakespeare, chicken crossing the road jokes, Moliere, mimes and clowns, Vaudeville, Chaplin and Chekov (whom I have never thought of as funny!) as the three actors desperately search for the missing chapter on The Art of Comedy that has been lost to time.  In doing so, they take us through every chapter of the book, acting out the principles of comedy and how they have shaped the genre.  They interact with the audience, dragging audience members onto the stage and exchanging banter with people.
I think covering specific comics is one of the disadvantages of a show like this.  Comedy, and what people find funny is intensely personal.  For example, I have never found Moliere or Chekov, or even Chaplin to be funny, and unfortunately, having their plays and sketches acted out by a troop of comedians still doesn't make them funny for me.  There were parts that I did guffaw at, and the audience was definitely tickled by the show, but in comparison to their other productions, it just didn't engender the same continuously cackling reaction in me that I was expecting, and that was a shame.  The funniest joke for me involved Abraham Lincoln and the phrase 'too soon?'.
As we left, we did discuss whether they were now running out of ideas, and whether or not the same format just wasn't as fresh as it used to be.

What the Reduced Shakespeare Company are know and revered for is their impudent, breathless, quick fire routines that is choreographed to a frenetic pace that leaves you gasping for breath.  The very thing that makes us want to emulate them, and terrified about even trying to do so.  'Comedy', for me, was missing that edge, that fire and punch. 

Would I see the Reduced Shakespeare Company again?  Absolutely, in a heart beat and I would recommend that everyone tries to see them at least once.

Would I see 'Comedy' again?  I'm not sure.  I felt that, out of all the shows I have seen by the RSC, this was the weakest by far.  It was pleasant and perfectly nice, it just didn't leave tears of joy running down my cheeks like their other shows did.
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  1. Yep, that's fair. I enjoyed my evening, but like seeing a less than wonderful Pixar movie, a less than breath removing RSC play feels a shame even when it was enjoyable. But I will be back, and our Shakespeare will be maaaaarrrrrvellous.

    1. I have absolutely no doubt that your version will be side splitting!