Theatre Reviews

March 2017:  Eating Peanuts in an Elephant's Garden

Shakespeare, radically abridged: Hilarious bedlam to warm a midwinter’s night

Snug in my kitchen, I confess I wasn’t enthusiastic about slogging through the remnants of Wednesday’s snowstorm to attend the opening of the Dartmouth Players’ latest production, “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)”. However, soon after the curtain went up, I was very glad I did. 

The play, performed hundreds of times since its debut at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 1987, cleverly combines snippets from thirty-seven plays into two hours of hilarious bedlam. Whatever you thought of the Bard’s plays in high school, this interpretation is sure to please. Titus Adronicus is presented as a darkly comedic cooking show, the Histories are reduced to a game of football, and the Comedies are mashed together into a single chaotic farce.

The play’s dozens of characters are brought to life by just three actors, with occasional support from the audience. Kudos to Cathy Cameron, Sean Baker and Jesse Robb for handling their assignments with impressive skill and energy.

Cameron, a pre-eminent/eminent/post-eminent Shakespearian scholar channeling a randy schoolmarm, does a bang-up job of providing the audience with context for the bedlam that erupts onstage. Her ability to deliver challenging text with precision and clarity were especially appreciated by those in the back row. She particularly shines as Titus the bloody chef in Act 1 and mad Hamlet in Act 2.

Baker, who spends the most time onstage, delivers energetic performances throughout. Highlights include his turn as a sighing, lovesick Romeo, masterful quarterbacking of the Histories, and a painfully slow navigation of the stage as Polonius. (Who knew groaning could be so funny?) He earns special mention for carrying the audience through the two somewhat aimless scenes that bracket the intermission. 

Last but not least, there’s Robb, who is called upon to embody the widest range of emotions. As a series of swooning, bubble-headed heroines, his forays into the audience to relieve fear and anxiety through projectile vomiting never fail to amuse. In contrast, a sincere and moving delivery of a soliloquy from Hamlet in Act 2 demonstrates he’s an actor with the skill and talent to perform dramatic roles as well as slapstick.

Tamara Smith did a fine job as director of the piece - casting strong players, incorporating guffaw-inducing references to popular culture and effectively managing the pace of the performance.

The set design by Ray LeFresne and lighting design by Richard Bonner set a suitably surreal mood and worked especially well for the murder of Polonius in Act 2, though the players might have made more use of parts of the set (particularly the swings) in Act 1. Other aspects of the show – props (Mickey Morgan), sound design (John Beard), costumes (Kathleen Robson), stage management (Daniel Yule) and production (Holly Irving) – were handled well too.

There were minor issues with the first performance that I’m confident will be remedied in future performances. Opening night jitters and nervous energy resulted in Robb and Baker speaking too quickly in the early scenes, throwing away lines the audience might have enjoyed. Too frequent entrances and exits in Act 2 sometimes interfered with the audience’s ability to follow the action. A smallish audience (likely the result of bad weather) made the scenes requiring audience participation more challenging – a challenge (I hasten to add) the players met with aplomb. 

All in all, Dartmouth Players is to be congratulated for once again creating highly entertaining community theatre at our doorsteps. The Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged) runs Wednesday through Sunday from now until January 30th. Do yourself a favour and buy a ticket today. Info is available at

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