The notion that laughter is linked to surprise is a popular one, and can be supported by my experience last Tuesday. I first saw the Revised Shakespeare Company (and I’m sure that they chose RSC for their initials deliberately) somewhere in the region of fifteen years ago, and this is a distinctive enough show that I could still work out what was going to come next. So all further comment will be light on specifics so as not to spoiler the show for the new-timer.
In broad terms, the show is a three-hander which attempts to do all of Shakespeare’s plays in a couple of hours, with a very limited number of props, and rather more terrible wigs. There’s an awful lot of meta-level action, and a mash-up comedy which I would *love* to see more of – although the Freudian Hamlet has aged less well.
The premise is that the actors are all American – true when I saw it in the 90s but not this time (since one of them was busy getting Shit-Faced earlier this year). I can’t really comment on the quality of the American accents, but I question their place – it felt a bit like I imagine Gilbert and Sullivan did back in the days when D’Oyly Carte controlled the copyright and didn’t allow innovative productions. The cast were at their best when they were allowed to riff on the audience (although I pitied the guy who asked for hands-up who’d actually seen King John – this year that was a terrible choice!)
As the name implies, there were revisions – including to the Othello rap – a number I know by heart thanks to a liberal secondary-school interpretation of Shakespeare. Strangely, the revisions here are just as off-putting as they are when a production makes cuts to a real Shakespearean piece you know off by heart – I don’t know what that’s a testament to but let’s call it the quality of the writing and the power of rhyme…
If you haven’t seen it before, the RSC will make you laugh like hell. If you have, it will still bring a smile to your lips – and you may find yourself surprised into laughter.