REVIEWING The Shakespeare Revue sounds a bit tautologous – but that’s a pompous word and pricking pomposity is just one of the witty aims of this sparkling show, at Bath Theatre Royal until Saturday 24th September.
The Bard is over-intellectualised, subjected to merciless egotistical exercises in angst and paranoia by pretentious directors, mangled by amateurs, pickled in aspic by conservatives, preyed in aid by politicians of all hues to demonstrate their cultural clout and the subject of more poems, parodies, puns and productions than any dramatist in history.
That’s because he is the best, the greatest, the most famous Englishman of them all – and yet, in truth, forsooth, we know so little about him.
That’s the starting point for this delightful pot-pourri of bardic extracts and comic writers’ sketches and songs, created by Christopher Luscombe and Malcolm McKee.
Who was Shakespeare? asks Patrick Barlow, and it all circles and cartwheels out from there.
Brush up your Shakespeare, says Cole Porter. Learn your lines – it’s only nine months to opening night, says Victoria Wood’s amdram director. And can you be sure your little dog’s going to die (or what shall we do for poor Yorick’s skull?)
We get Shakespeare seen through the flickering footlights of the old time music hall; gabbled and muddled by the Repertory Actor; deconstructed by an academic who long ago forgot these plays were meant to be acted in Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie’s hilarious Masterclass; anagrammed by the Monty Pythons; and exhausted in Sandy Wilson’s Give Us A Rest.
There’s a far from academic fan who is in love with the spear carrier in Carrying A Torch, more jokes about Hamlet than are dreamed of in the gloomy Dane’s philosophy and a delicious farewell to Falstaff from the Ladies of London who knew him in the financial and biblical senses – words by Caryl Brahms and Ned Sherrin and music by Malcolm McKee, the accompanist for this new and updated production.
There are some sharp contemporary allusions – Trump as a Shakespearean villain, anyone? – in this reworking of a show that originally opened at the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1993, was a West End and off-Broadway hit and has toured the world.
The writers, comics, composers and wits whose clever tributes to the sweet Swan of Avon feature in the show include Bernard Levin, Tim Brooke-Taylor and Bill Oddie, Dillie Keane, Maureen Lipman, Michael Green, Alan Bennett, Peter Cook, Jonathan Miller and Dudley Moore, Alan Melville, Derek Nimmo and Ronald Harwood. Not forgetting Mr Shakespeare.
The multi-talented acting, singing (jazz, cabaret and grand opera) and dancing performers are: Lizzie Bea, Jordan Lee Davies, Alex Morgan, Alex Scott Fairley and Anna Stolli.
The Shakespeare Revue is one of those clever confections that are so light you almost miss the brilliance of all the writers who have contributed to it. It’s very English in its self-deprecating, ironic knowingness. Just the delicate dish we need in these dark and murky times!