Friday, April 07, 2006

Completely Hollywood (Abridged) - Sheffield Lyceum, 06/04

Now kids, we haven't really discussed my love of the Reduced Shakespeare Company, have we? I've hinted at it a couple of times, and the link has been lurking down there on the left ever since I started here, but somehow the opportunity has never come up.

First of all, you should all know that you probably have the RSC to blame for me being here in the first place. In either '99 or 2000, I went to the now-defunct Ross-On-Wye arts festival, where I saw my first RSC production: the now-defunct Millennium Musical (Abridged) - defunct basically because there's a large section of the show which is about the Islam's contribution to the world's culture and history. While the whole point is to say how little we acknowledge that while the west was forgetting everything the Romans and Greeks taught us, the East was building on it, apparently Islam can't be talked about at all, and especially not in a comedy-type setting. I don't know who's to blame for them pulling this show but it's a real shame cos it's a great one. Anyhoo, a year later I went to see The Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged) - their first and arguably still best show. Afterwards, I stumbled on the now-defunct British website (there's a pattern here) and forum, and, in my first experience of the 'internet community', I posted there. To my surprise, people responded. Even one of the actors I'd seen the night before did (his name was Eduardo, for the record), so I kept going back, which gradually led to visiting other forums, a very brief LiveJournal period, and finally I ended up here. It's a slippery slope, I tells ya. Anyhoo, I've now seen all the shows (The Bible Abridged is an absolute must-see), met casts at stage-doors, befriended fellow fans, had forum arguments with cast-members over whether the Millennium Musical was actually any good (a certain Mikey and Gary were arguing, loyally, that it sucked) etc.
Yup, I think that's us pretty much up to date. On with the review.

I've got a theory. Basically, ever since its announcement, I've always had concerns about this new show, in that Hollywood, unlike Shakespeare or the Bible, is not something that's revered, or seen as untouchable. While I don't think this problem can ever be totally overcome, consciously or not, the writers Austin Tichenor (who plays the odd doctor and lawyer in Nip/Tuck and The West Wing making him incredibly cool) and Reed Martin (who used to be a clown, making him possibly ever cooler) have made quite a subtle but distinct change to the RSC formula to deal with it. Take the Shakespeare show. In that, contrary to semi-popular opinion, the humour does not come from making the plays themselves look stupid - quite the reverse in fact, a lot of respect is paid to the texts. Instead what's funny is these three slightly misguided guys' dumbed-down reactions and ridiculous interpretations of it. The problem is, it's pretty tough to make Hollywood more ridiculous than it already is - except by treating it incredibly seriously and academically, and that's precisely what the writers have done. All the way through, you've got the guys coming out with these film-appreciation class, pseudo-intellectual discussions about the nature of film, like whether there's two or three fundamental plot-lines and stuff. It's commonly said that they dumbed-down Shakespeare, well now they've dumbed-up films.

So that's the theorising out of the way, was it any cop? Well it's no Shakespeare or Bible, and the opening twenty minutes were definitely light on laughs, but eventually it got into its stride, and when the RSC are on, they make an audience laugh like no-one else. We didn't clap at jokes, we laughed, and that's important. Well, we clapped as well, but you get my point.

Clever word-play and silly physical humour have always been the RSC's strengths, and there's plenty of both in this show. Unusually for an RSC show, there was half a plot Completely Hollywood, in that the three performers are the director, writer and star of a film, all pushing for their interests and concerns - money, the 'message' and exposure respectively - to be most important. As the director wanted something already familiar to film-lovers, this allowed for lots of merged film titles - the best one probably being 'Singing in the Rainman'. Funnier acted out though. On the physical side of things, the slo-mo Matrix sequence was really well thought-out and performed.

It's unbalanced - all the real belly laughs came from the second half - but there was an obvious love and real understanding of film that ran throughout which was cool to see. The RSC's productions are always brilliantly casted, too, with the performers getting a chance to show off both their laid-back (and so wonderfully camouflaged) acting, as well as their quick-witted and spontaneous comic skills. If you like RSC at all, you really can't afford to miss any show, cos there's always a bit of magic involved.


MIKEY> said...

Anna, you atcually make me want to go to the theater.


AnnaWaits said...

Dude, you'd love it! You've got to try and catch them :)