The Complete Works of William Shakespeare

Vive de Shakespeare! Vive de Grand-Duc!

d'Lëtzebuerger Land du 25.05.2006

At last Bardolatry has hit our shores! While the RSC is staging each of Shakespeare's plays in Stratford during their festival year, Tom Leick, Jules Werner and Fred Neuen have accomplished the Olympic feat of presenting the whole dramatic oeuvre of the 39 plays in just over 90 minutes. A rollercoaster condensation, yet even the 154 sonnets get a look-in! If you didn't attend this 'gala de la joyeuse entrée' of the 'Troupe Grand-Ducale de Shakespeare', you are to be pitied as you've missed a brilliant evening of hilarious entertainment. The stage-set did definitely not try and compete with the Globe – there were no grand Italianate columns, but a flat cardboard wall over which ruled the rather inoffensive Luxembourg Red Lion. A shrine at the centre held the Complete Works of William Shakespeare. It all smacked of the perfect provincial set-up... After a short biographical notice, we were off for the first rumbustious ride – with Romeo and Juliet. There were love scenes, sword fights, a lot of jumping around and a quick volley of Shakespearean lines and Luxembourgish side remarks. The fun was in the mix of things, in the inventive details.Titus Andronicus came as that week's Kichechef, with the heads of Lavinia's rapists to be baked in the oven for 40 minutes and then served to their mother at dinner. Othello was a rap song, while Shakespeare's 17 comedies were the subject of a single ballad. Then Macbeth was offered in the original Scottish accent, which came down to lots of long-drawn 'r's and the odd grunt. The Histories were presented as an American football match with the crown being passed round at high speed from generation to generation, from dynasty to dynasty. In the middle of all the frenetic action King Lear was disqualified as an intrusive fictional character. He left the pitch only to be replaced by Edward IV and then Richard III. This is the type of theatrical extra-vaganza that depends on rhythm and speed. You were not granted a single moment of respite as the beautifully timed, energetic scenes took you from play to play, from Italy to Egypt and then back to England only to end up in Elsinore, where the play within the play became a Punch and Judy show. In fact, there were three different speeded-up versions of Hamlet, with Ophelia in her blonde Gretchen wig and white tutu coming straight out of a Christmas panto! Unlike most other literary classics, Shakespeare seems to embrace this type of shock treatment. The inventiveness of the whole enterprise was simply great or mega-cool, as the younger generation commented on the way-out. Still, in the middle of the creative chaos the most moving moment was the 'What a piece of work is man!' speech from Hamlet spoken together by the three actors. They proved that, whatever the context, perfectly pitched language invariably creates a moment of suspense since the magic and balance of the words will cut through anything! The momentary seriousness was instantly swept away, though, with a hilarious episode of audience participation which the actors themselves seemed to enjoy as much as everyone else. Ultimately, Tom Leick, Jules Werner and Fred Neuen, their promising trainee, have proved that like Hamlet's friends they can handle tragedy, comedy, history as well as tragical-historical or tragical-comical-historical-pastoral... They can even do what, if we believe women's magazines, men are traditionally not terribly good at, namely multi-tasking! The combination of trainers and Elizabethan costume comes straight from the Reduced Shakespeare Company's iconic The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged), which was running first at the Arts Theatre and then at the Criterion Theatre in London for years on end. As acknowledged in the programme, the Luxembourg show is based on the original recipe, but it has clearly added plenty of its own elements of fast fun as well as loads of local gags. The Grand-Ducal family gets a look-in as do Jang de Blannen and our Mumm Séiss. You swiftly move beyond the usual framework of logic and rationality into a world of surreal fun, so the Marx Brothers, the Goons and Monty Python could all figure as godparents to the show. As soon as the flamboyance and bawdiness hit home, reality stopped being dull! In a completely different register one can only hope that the next challenge TGDS will set itself will be a solid, homegrown production of one of the Bard's legendary tragedies (in English, please!). The audience is hungry for more.

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare was shown at the studio of the Grand Théâtre on May 20, 21 and 22.


Janine Goedert
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