All 37 Shakespeare plays crammed into one 'exceptional' show at Roman Theatre in St Albans

The National Production Company's production of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged).

The National Production Company's production of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged). - Credit: Alex Carver

Deborah Heath reviews The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) by the National Production Company at the Roman Theatre Festival in St Albans.

The National Production Company's production of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged).

The National Production Company's production of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged). - Credit: Alex Carver

On another balmy summer’s evening, an eager audience gathered at our Roman Theatre Festival for the next treat presented by the National Production Company.

Earlier in the week they gave us Jekyll and Hyde and Terrible Tales, but this time it was The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged).

I attended with my whole family, interested to know whether it would amuse everyone whether they had a large or small experience of Shakespeare or not. We were not disappointed.

This wonderful summary of Shakespeare’s works was created by the Reduced Shakespeare Company in the 1980s.

It is for a cast of three and proved a great choice for the National Production Company, who boast a collection of strong, energetic and versatile performers.

They did a great job of tweaking the script to bring it up to date with political and social references.

The National Production Company's production of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged).

The National Production Company's production of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged). - Credit: Alex Carver

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The three actors (James, Jonathan and Mark) took it in turns to provide narration which was, of course, in rhyme. They all established an excellent rapport with the audience.

This was helped by using the whole theatre as a playing area with action happening in the aisles, round the back of the seating, and also a fair bit of audience participation.

They made us all feel an important part of their storytelling, which was a smart move because the physical toll a play like this puts on the performers is immense. You need everyone behind you to keep going!

The National Production Company's production of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged).

The National Production Company's production of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged). - Credit: Alex Carver

It’s a hard task to cram 37 plays into 90 minutes. They began with a Romeo and Juliet which took them 12 but followed it by rolling all the comedies into one super twin ridden, storm set farce in which their skills for teamwork and character comedy really shone.

I was impressed with the range of theatre styles they used to tell some of the stories – we had Othello as a rap, Troilus and Cressida as interpretive dance, and all the king plays presented as a slow-motion sports match.

Titus Andronicus as a cookery show was a brilliant idea but I did feel uncomfortable with the rape jokes. It really was the only problematic part of an excellent show and I realise more a script rather than a production issue. 

The National Production Company's production of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged).

The National Production Company's production of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged). - Credit: Alex Carver

I didn’t think it could get much better until Act II, when they played Hamlet in about four different ways including backwards!

Although the performers were clearly masters of comedy, our favourite moment of the whole play was when actor Jonathan performed a powerfully straight soliloquy.

To summarise this really was a superb night out – the audience were buzzing by the end. The concept and script were fantastic but the execution from this talented trio of men made it exceptional.

Well done National Production Company.