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The Complete Works Of William Shakespeare (Abridged) 
Launceston Players
Earl Arts Centre

September 9th, 2022

If you’ve been having doubts about going to see the Launceston Players’ newest production, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) because you dislike Shakespeare, feel inadequately familiar with his works, or had a harrowing-yet-formative high school experience with one of his plays, I need you to stop, take a deep breath, and really read me when I write that none of you have a thing to fear. The cast of Shakespeare Abridged probably know less about Shakespeare than you do, and they want you to know it. 

That cast is Jesse Apted, Ashley Eyles, and Jan Gluszyk, and until this show wraps on the 17th, they are the hardest working theatre makers in Launceston, the only possible exception being the backstage team responsible for coordinating this madness. Shakespeare Abridged is, conceptually, as simple as the title suggests. The cast are presented as heightened versions of themselves. They explain that they have the unenviable task of condensing 38 plays and 154 sonnets that humanity has spent centuries unpacking into a show lasting a little under two hours, and then they just do it, with a pace and tone about as manic as that description suggests. This is the kind of show where, when someone needs a prop, a disembodied hand reaches out from backstage with the requested item. In its best moments it’s about as close to a live-action cartoon as I’ve ever seen rendered on stage. In this show, everything is a gag. If no one is speaking, there’s a sound effect playing. People change costumes like it’s a bodily function. If there’s a moment for comedy, this team has reached for it, the ultimate effect being that, regardless of your stance on Shakespeare, there’s hardly a dull moment in the entire production. It takes a few moments of preamble to ramp up, and then we’re off to the races. 

And the cast are definitely up to the challenge, with Jan Gluszyk’s enthusiastic delivery of some of the driest material having a delightful and almost vaudevillian energy, and Ashley Eyles' more earnest approach proving similarly infectious. All three deserve praise for ensuring the scatterbrained script remains coherent, but special mention must be made of Jesse Apted, whose energy and total commitment helped to drive much of the show.

It’s somewhat bizarre to reflect that a show purporting to show all of Shakespeare’s work has as little content about Shakespeare as it does. He’s all the cast talk about, of course, but what may prove refreshing for the kinds of audience members invoked above is that surprisingly few of the jokes rely on any real knowledge of Shakespeare. The how is more important than the what, most of the humour coming from the inventive ways the cast condense the work, how they play off the audience, and just their raw energy and enthusiasm. The positive result is that an audience member could safely go into the show armed only with what knowledge cultural osmosis has imparted and not miss a beat. The offset is that few, if any, attendees are likely to leave any more knowledgeable about Shakespeare than when they entered.

Not everything works, of course. The other effect of making absolutely everything a gag being that it inevitably impacts your strike rate. There were more than a few jokes that either didn’t land, or were, on reflection, just flat out baffling. I suspect that, were the pace not turned so firmly up to eleven, many of the jokes would fall apart under the scrutiny more deliberate pacing would invite. Why is there a Super Mario joke in Romeo and Juliet? Does anyone care? The thing is that even the jokes that don’t work or don’t make sense end up serving the show anyway. The sheer force and volume of the gags eventually reaches a critical mass, and makes the total far more than the sum of its parts. It’s a clear agenda on the part of director Matt Taylor, whose sharp instincts for this particular brand of madcap humour were on display in last year’s Launceston Players production Marjorie Unravelled. I can’t say I was ever envious of the cast or backstage team, given their monumental task of bringing the thousand strands of Matt’s maximalist vision to the stage, but it’s hard to deny the cumulative power of what they’ve put together. 

This show wins you over with its eagerness to please, finding comedy on every level, at every moment. Why are the set changes performed by people on rollerblades? Because it’s funnier than people on foot. Why is Hamlet’s father’s ghost a sock? Because a crappy prop is funnier than a good one. In the end, everything is done in the name of fun. It’s not there to instruct, though you might learn something. It’s there to make you laugh and entertain you, and in that respect the show is an unqualified success.

Review By Ryan Politis

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