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The Theatreguide.London Review

The Shakespeare Revue
New End Theatre      December 2006

This collection of sketches and musical numbers was originally done by the Royal Shakespeare Company some years ago as a kind of end-of-term jape, with divisors Christopher Luscombe and Malcolm McKee finding or commissioning contributions from Cole Porter, Noel Coward, Beyond the Fringe, Fascinating Aida, Fry and Laurie, Victoria Wood and others.

It remains fun in this new production - though I should note that it does help to know just a bit about Shakespeare.

This revival seems to have been marketed as a holiday family show, and my audience included a number of small children getting very little from the experience, along with some adults who seemed to be waiting for the panto horse to arrive.

You don't have to know much more than, say, the fact that everybody dies at the end of Hamlet to get the jokes - though you probably do have to be interested enough to find the gags funny.

For example, Jack Klaff's I'm In The RSC, a comic monologue for a minor actor, is full of in-jokes about Trevor and Ian and Judi, while Fry and Laurie's parody of a very unhelpful acting coach presumes some awareness of the excesses being parodied.

Bring just that much interest and background to the show and you can have a lot of fun.

Cole Porter's Brush Up Your Shakespeare is there, of course, along with Sandy Wilson's Give Us A Rest, in which Hamlet, Juliet and Hal beg for a few seasons off.

Dillie Keane's Away With The Fairies complains about directors trying to find new ways of staging A Midsummer Night's Dream, and Victoria Wood imagines a nightmarish am dram Hamlet.

This revival features a cast of four (along with a pianist), and if not every item in the programme works, each of the performers gets at least one chance to shine.

Nicholas White is funny as a perplexed traveller who asks what's new in Elsinore at just the wrong time, and he and Helen Evans have a lot of fun with Perry Pontac's sketch somehow transporting the characters of Othello into The Importance of Being Earnest.

Evans also shines with Francesca Casey in Dillie Keane and Adele Anderson's musical setting (complete with singalong) of the English lesson scene from Henry V, while Casey does full justice to the lovely song of a devoted fan.

Matthew Stevens wrings all the laughs out of the hapless actor in that Fry and Laurie sketch and as the am dram director.

Directors John Risebero and Ben Horslen might have kept the general energy level higher, but one has to accept that it is in the nature of a show like this that some bits will work better than others.

As long as you come to this show with some idea of what's on offer, you'll have a generally happy evening.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of The Shakespeare Revue - New End  Theatre 2006


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