x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Reading between the laughter lines

All of Shakespeare's plays are coming to Abu Dhabi and Dubai, squeezed into one live performance that's guaranteed to have you in stitches.

The cast of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged), which is coming back to the UAE. Courtesy Complete Works of Shakespeare
The cast of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged), which is coming back to the UAE. Courtesy Complete Works of Shakespeare

Popular Productions is bringing back one of its best-selling performances – The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged). The side-splitting show is London’s longest-running comedy and has already seen sell-out sessions in the UAE in 2006, 2007 and 2009. This year’s edition is 97 minutes long, featuring every Shakespeare play presented in a style never seen before. Imagine Othello as a rap song or Hamlet backwards. We caught up with John Payton, the director, producer and actor, to find out more.

Who came up with this brilliant idea and how?

Three very talented and clever men called Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield. It sprang from an idea to condense the Complete Works into quick comedy for the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in the late 1980s. 

Did people think you were mad when you started out?

I think the whole idea of presenting 37 plays in one evening is folly. To actually commit to doing it in front of an audience is crazy. So yes, most people think we’re mad.

This is “London’s longest-running comedy”. What is it, in your opinion, that holds the audience’s fascination?

It had an amazing run in London’s West End, over nine years, which hasn’t been beaten since. I think there is a strong fascination with Shakespeare, it’s part of the fabric of theatre, and any show that attempts to give an audience a “mixtape” of Shakespeare’s greatest hits is always going to be popular. It’s also funny and has some brilliant moments of audience interaction. I think the crowd gets a real kick from the off-the-cuff nature of the show. No two performances are ever the same.

Have you ever had a backlash from literary snobs?

We did – but we lashed them back.

What was the response to The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) like, the previous times you came to the UAE?

I think an audience appreciates seeing actors having a great time onstage and when they can see the effort in the performance, it really counts. We hope the laughs will be as big again this time.

Do you think people who have already seen it will be coming back?

I remember the first time I saw the show, I went back the next night with friends. It’s the kind of show that you say to people: “You have to see this, you won’t believe what they do on stage.” 

Can you tell us what’s new about the show this time around?

The show has been revised by the writers, bringing a lot of the contemporary references and jokes up to date, and the whole thing has been streamlined even more than the original, if that’s even possible. We think it’s much fresher and funnier for 2013. We’ve also added some new gags.

Your company has toured the UAE with a lot of plays. What is it about the Emirates that keeps you coming back?

It’s an exciting, growing market with audiences who have a thirst for good live entertainment. There is always a great buzz in the auditorium at the performances and we’re so pleased to be able to keep touring to the UAE. Our audiences are our lifeblood.

Dubai performances will take place at Madinat Theatre, Souk Madinat Jumeirah from tomorrow until Tuesday at 8pm, with additional shows at 11am on Sunday and Monday. The Abu Dhabi performances are at Al Jaheli Theatre, Armed Forces Officers Club, on November 28 at 11am and 8pm and on November 29 at 8pm.

Tickets are priced at Dh160 and Dh200 and can be purchased online at www.completeshakespeare.co.uk or at the box office at Souk Madinat Jumeirah, Dubai. Visit www.completeshakespeare.co.uk for more details.

artslife@thenational.ae