This year has been jam packed with theatres and companies up and down the country marking the anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. You can’t get away from him. There are revivals of The Dream, Macbeth, the Henry’s and the Histories, Lear and Othello and R & J, on stage in amateur, fringe and mainstream theatres everywhere.
Now a birthday I can understand, but death? What next? Will we celebrate the Bard’s wedding anniversary, the day of his first day at school?
So I fully empathise with a chorus in Sandy Wilson’s vintage ditty, Give Us A Rest, when three of Shakespeare’s key players, Hamlet, Juliet and Henry V, plead for a moratorium: “We’re fed up with being acted, And we’d like to be subtracted, From the repertoire of every company”.
But if you are going to celebrate every cough and sneeze of the world’s greatest playwright then The Shakespeare Revue is the way to do it. It’s one of the most entertaining shows I’ve seen all year. I’m confident that the anarchic treatment of Will’s purple prose would have had made the old Elizabethan roar with laughter.
Devised by Christopher Luscombe and Malcolm McKee as a one off charity event for the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1993 (to accompany the Bard’s birthday celebrations – in lieu of a cake probably) it went on to come a huge hit at the RSC, the West End and throughout the world where the show regularly tours.
The Shakespeare Revue is back and touring the UK – briefly – and this week has pitched up at Guildford’s Yvonne Arnaud Theatre where last night’s opening was enthusiastically greeted by a packed house.
This warm, affectionate, satirical and occasionally irreverent homage, takes the form of more than 30 songs, sketches and monologues written by some of our most celebrated comics, playwrights, actors and wordsmiths.
The world and his lobster has contributed, from Fry & Laurie, Victoria Wood, Maureen Lipman and the Beyond The Fringe gang to Derek Nimmo, Dillie Keane and Bernard Levin.
Sir steps out from Ronald Harwood’s The Dresser to give the Curtain Speech while the entire revue company – Lizzie Bea, Jordan Lee Davies, Alex Morgan, Alex Scott Fairley and Anna Stolli – entertain with Cole Porter’s Brush Up Your Shakespeare.
The cleverest skit comes from Monty Python and I can’t begin to imagine how fiendishly difficult it must have been to create (and to learn).
The Man Who Speaks In Anagrams sees Davies interview Alex Morgan in what sounds like a Two Ronnies sketch. It’s fast, furious and the audience is usually a few seconds behind as they work out the brilliantly conceived dialogue (expert Countdown viewers get the jokes immediately).
Elsewhere the animated and versatile Davies comes on as a harassed Welsh stage director to deliver Victoria Wood’s inimitable Giving Notes. The unseen theatre company is doing Hamlet – and he wants it to be light.
“It may be Hamlet but it’s got to be fun, fun, fun!” He declares, and later, tells the gravedigger: “Put in a bit of your Hello Dolly”.
Lizzie Bea sings a heartwarming rendition of the Anthony Drewe and George Stiles song, Carrying A Torch, which tells how a schoolgirl, bored rigid by classroom Shakespeare, recants after seeing a poster. She falls immediately in love, carrying a torch for the boy carrying a spear in the advertised production.
Alan Melville’s riotous Wherefore Art Thou, Juliet reminds us all about the pitfalls of performing in rep as two actors (Stolli and Morgan) find themselves on stage speaking lines from different plays.
“It’s not Duncan dear, it’s Romeo! It’s Tuesday. You give succour on Wednesdays!” screams Morgan at the confused Juliet/ Lady M.
The fivesome sing a bit, turning the hallowed dialogue into Victorian Music Hall fodder (and all the better for it), indulge in comedy routines, throw in a snippet of Noël Coward, a tap dance and even a sing-a-long.
It’s silly, occasionally risque, delightfully eccentric, pokes gentle fun at the RSC, Shakespeare’s stage directions and body counts, but, importantly, salutes his influence on our theatre.
But, above all, the revue celebrates the enormous debt we owe a man who lived 400 years ago and who shaped our English language.
It’s disappointing that this latest tour is so brief but The Shakespeare Revue is at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre until Saturday before moving to Richmond Theatre (Nov 7-12); Brighton Theatre Royal (Nov 21-26) and Glasgow Theatre Royal (Nov 29 – December 3.)
Eccentric, wonderfully zany and off-beat. The Shakespeare Revue pays homage to our greatest playwright with a riotously funny show penned by the country's top comics, writers and composers.