Writer and Director: Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor
Reviewer: Ruth Jepson
The Reduced Shakespeare Company having being chaotically chopping up big topics into tiny shows since 1990, when they took their comedy hatchet to the Bard’s plays. Books, the Bible, America, sport and Christmas feature among the other truncations and 25 years later, they finally take on the genre they were born to abridge – comedy.
With such a rich comedic background, The Complete History of Comedy (Abridged) should be side splittingly hilarious. And it starts off very promising – the restaging of the classic ‘Why did the chicken cross the road’ joke as a Post Modern cliché alone had the audience clutching their sides; not to mention the initial bang of the Birth of Comedy sketch, which is gloriously silly humour. Performers Gary Fannin, Andrew Hodges and Steven Rostance are clearly gifted in their art, especially their perfection of physical comedy. Which is why it’s so disappointing that so many gags just fall a little short of how funny you want them to be.
That isn’t to say the show is boring, or bad. It isn’t. There are a number of gems throughout the run, such as Fannin’s ukulele song ‘I laughed ‘til I cried’ which manages to be not only funny in its tongue twisting cleverness, but also really rather heart string pulling in its final lines; and a sketch melding all the classic American and British sit coms imaginable with, of all things, Chekov plays is pure genius. The show also manages to be unashamedly educational in among its fondness for groan worthy puns and low brow innuendos (you’ll come away much more enlightened about Commedia Dell’arte for example).
The pace is incredibly zippy, and the gags do keep you giggling – the odd one or two will have you booming with laughter even. But as a whole something is missing, some of the magic so present in the alternative RSC’s original work. Maybe it’s because the format has been done too many times, maybe it’s because the genre tackled is too large, or maybe it’s to do with the fact that they try to cram in a moral message about comedy saving the world that feels a bit too shore horned. The overarching premise is going through a book about the Art of Comedy to discover how to save the world, but it’s a plot convoluted by trying to be serious about the conflicts in the Middle East, which never really pays off for the audience. An admirable goal, using comedy to heal world issues, but rather trite when you’ve watched the same guy that gives that speech earlier extol the virtues of fart gags. This problem was highlighted particularly in this performance, since part way through the meaningful ending, Hodges’ inadvertent corpsing got a bigger reaction than the point he was trying to make.
Is it a funny show? Yes. Does it reflect the goofy, quick fire nature of The Reduced Shakespeare Company? Sure. Is it still a damned good night out at the theatre? Of course. Just don’t expect it to live up to their previous work.
Reviewed on: 5th May 2015 then touring