The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) | Review
Bruiser Theatre Company • The MAC, Belfast • 15 September 2016
By James-Alexander Johnson
Riotous, polished chaos from Bruiser Theatre Company’s incandescently outrageous The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged). A rhubarb glow gave the rustic stage a warm, Elizabethan aesthetic on a rammed press night; the calm before a hernia-inducing storm of hilarity. There was an alchemic dynamic between our stooges – Gerard McCabe, Keith Lynch and Michael Patrick – hurtling through razor-sharp camp. Deliriously directed by an astute and awe-inspiring Lisa May, she was able to keep an erratic show asthmatic yet accessible. People could hardly breathe through the laughter.
A formal biography of The Bard bulged into an anarchic Nazi history. Romeo and Juliet, with our three breathless clowns, suddenly became drenched in sharp, sweaty, salacious physicality. It’s a raunchy night out, folks. Arsehat must be zinger of the year and the audience lapped up every yawp of this irreverent lunacy. McCabe induced tears with his coy, lip-biting Juliet. As balloons became breasts and the minuscule dagger finally piercing our fallen hero, ‘That’s Romeo for you;’ how the ladies doubled over in hysterics.
This subversive Shakespeare rattled through raucous cackles. We see chain-smokers blasting bitchy shrews and throaty Scottish send-ups of Macbeth, ‘Whiskey. Kilts. Vomit’ and all – this is a vaudevillian buffet, replete with filthy Punch and Judy set pieces. It is a Herculean feat of maniacal comedy with the severed hands, tongues and heads of The Great Roman Bake Off – a grotesque and gorgeous subversion of Titus Andronicus with a thumpingly good Lynch as a hatchet-wielding menace. The comedies were crunched into a frantic collection of hats, moustaches and cheap harps. Frenetic scene changes involved flung bodybags, gaffer-taped wigs, murdering and cross-dressing uncles. The ensemble worked their pink-tighted arses off.
The second act is a silly, localised subversion of Hamlet, armed with intentionally fluffed lines, wonky spotlights and socks for ghosts. Michael Patrick brought a muscular precision to Polonius before McCabe’s still, tender, ‘most excellent canapé’ of a speech. As he wittily remarked of Shakespeare’s prose, “Maybe they’re not all b-b-b-bollocks.” In an uncertain time of our lives, Complete Works is a certain delirious night at The MAC that concluded with a thunderous ovation and a breathless cast and audience alike. It is a miracle of a show.