We went to see The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) last year. I’d seen it before, but it merited a second viewing. The Complete Bible (Abridged) is from the same stable, yet somehow lacks the cohesiveness of the Reduced Shakespeare Company’s first adventure – which is saying something, because you don’t rattle through 37 plays and a few sonnets in 90 minutes with any respect for continuity.
There are a few good lines in The Bible (Abridged) – it is well-documented that I value the pun as the pinnacle of comedic art, but the demon joke is bad enough that even I couldn’t help but groan, and the throw-away “No way!”/”Yahweh!” comment got me chuckling; the flavour of knowing disrespect masking an affection for the work is the same, but I think my biggest problem is that it’s almost exactly the same play as Shakespeare (Abridged). It has the same silly audience participation. It has the same characters (inasmuch as the actors play the actors performing the work), the same breaking into song to skittle through the boring bits, and the same dick jokes – only fewer, and without quite the same context to make them hysterical. The sketches seem to finish without ever quite resolving into a payoff and the audience is frequently left pausing as the the lights go down wondering, ‘was that it?’. The first testament relies heavily on rather obvious barbs about the Republicans which – while I’m all for bashing stupidity where it deserves it – try to do their surgery with clubs instead of scalpels.
The running gag about Noah’s Ark is disappointing too – the premise is that one of the actors (in this case, Soren) has some unspecified mental illness which is referenced only in relation to the cast having ‘done’ Noah’s Ark in an attempt to keep him quiet about it. It’s a feeble set-up, which could easily have been interwoven far better.
It’s not a poor play – I suspect for someone who hadn’t seen Shakespeare (Abridged), it may have been a (huck-huck-huck) Revelation, but for those who had it could be easily dismissed as a highly derivative sequel. The actors do as good a job as reasonable with the material, cleverly telegraphing the bulk of the second testament’s jokes in recognition of their obviousness, and ad-lib nicely – one of my favourite things about the Reduced Shakespeare Company is the deliberate breakdown of the wall between the audience and the performance almost to the point that it’s between the performers and the material so that the actors are more like audience participants than the well-rehearsed professionals and can reasonably squirt those watching in the face with water-spray.
I feel bad, reading back what I’ve written about the play, for the actors (I imagine the chances of them picking up on this review are slim, and the chances of their egos being permanently damaged slimmer still) – most of my issues with the Bible (Abridged) are with the script rather than with the production. I would recommend it to anyone who hadn’t seen Shakespeare (Abridged) but would advise caution for anyone else.