This weekend, the locally-run theatre company “All the King’s Men” performed a rendition of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged), in which three actors attempt to perform all 37 of Shakespeare’s plays in the course of about two hours.
The show’s humour and heart are heavily drawn from improvisation, metatheatre, audience participation and parody. There is essentially no fourth wall in the show, and the line between actor and character is basically non-existent. Actors use their own names, and spend about half of the show performing theatrical versions of “themselves,” and the other half of the show playing the many characters of Shakespeare’s 37 plays. Even when playing Shakespearean characters, they often break character in order to comment on the scenes, or to critique each other’s performances.
This witty banter and self-referentiality make up the heart of the play, and the audience is given the entertaining and thought-provoking experience of watching three characters bicker with each other as they struggle to work through a series of plays about which they are implied to have questionable knowledge.
The Bard is laid bare as the three make observations about his plays that range from crude or slapstick humour (characters with their hands cut off trying to high five) to thoughtful and insightful critique (one of the characters recognizing that he has been playing all female characters the same, and needs to recognize their depth and humanity). The play consistently questions, critiques, celebrates and generally explores the world and works of Shakespeare, while never losing the comic, satirical edge that serves as its core.
All the King’s Men’s rendition was done in a skillful way that captures the funny-yet-thoughtful spirit of the play, while adapting some of the humour and references to an audience that is both contemporary and local. The play was first performed in 1987 in Edinburgh, and All the King’s Men were able to, though improvisation and creative thinking, make jokes and commentary that were particularly relevant to St. Catharines in 2016.
Particular highlights from All the King’s Men’s alterations include a reference to Isaac’s Bar & Grill, recent St. Catharines and Brock controversies, and a few shout-outs to Brock’s department of Dramatic Arts and other arts-related groups on campus.
The performances by the three actors — Iain Beaumont, Ethan Yando and Mark Dickinson — were engaging, energetic and lively. Their interaction with the audience allowed them to produce a sense of investment in the lives of these three characters; audiences were pulled into the journey of three young performers (whose identities were a mix of fictional characters and the actors’ actual personalities) who earnestly wanted to explore the works of Shakespeare in an unconventional way. For such a humourous play, the performers managed to find a lot of heart and genuine emotional drive behind the characters which added an extra layer to the play that is often lost in performances of this nature.
Highlights of the night included a rendition of Titus Andronicus as a cooking show, a summary of Shakespeare’s Histories in the form of a football game, and a scene in which the audience gets the chance to embody the psyche of Ophelia from Hamlet.
The show was performed at Showtime Comedy and Entertainment, a relatively new addition to the downtown arts community that has hosted a fairly large amount of successful cultural events in the several months that it has been open.
All the King’s Men Theatre Company is a BUSU ratified club which puts on plays and workshops in the Brock community. For more information check them out on either experiencebu.brocku.ca or on their Facebook page.