First published in The Times, Saturday August 29 2015
It is nearly 30 years since the Reduced Shakespeare Company first brought their Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) to the Edinburgh Fringe. These days you can’t move at the world’s biggest arts festival for 60-minute parodies of everything from Hamlet to Breaking Bad, but the original vintage is still the best – as this enjoyable musical comedy, written and directed by Adam Long, one of the founding members of the RSC, attests.
Of course, Charles Dickens’s oeuvre has been so endlessly adapted, imitated and lampooned that it has become increasingly difficult to find fresh ways of sending up the great man’s life and works. Long’s show cleverly acknowledges this dilemma in the opening moments, with a three-minute, all singing and dancing version of Oliver Twist that is far closer in style to Lionel Bart’s glossy Sixties musical adaptation than its sombre literary counterpart.
Pic: Hydar Dewachi
All of Dickens’s best-known works are present and correct here, from a musical rundown of the plot of Bleak House, performed by the actor Martin Sarreal with guitar accompaniment in less than a minute, to a hilarious take-off of A Tale of Two Cities, with the epilogue sung by a newly decapitated head. Throughout, the script pokes affectionate fun at the many credibility-stretching coincidences and wild improbabilities in the novels, interweaving the fictional send-ups with scenes from the author’s (Matt Bateman) complex personal life, including his marriage to the long-suffering Catherine.
Each segment has its own incongruous musical flavour, from folk to heavy metal with even a disco sequence to liven up A Christmas Carol, complete with spinning glitter-ball. None of these sketches would be quite so successful if it weren’t for the sharpness of the writing or the quality of the performances. All four members of the ensemble combine skilled comic timing with strong singing while making light work of the choreography, created by Sally Brooks.
Fans of the books will get all of the references, but there is nothing to stop newcomers to Dickens being seduced by the dynamism of the cast. Indeed, the beauty of Long’s show is that it lets its audience have it both ways.
Box office: 0131 556 6550, to Aug 31. Touring to Nov 29. Dickensabridged.com