Shakespeare for the masses

From left, Rory Mann, Malcolm Ellis and Chris Mann perform at the Queen’s birthday garden party at Government House on Saturday. - PHOTO: GIS

I invited a friend to see “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)” on Saturday. “Bit too high brow for me, I’m afraid,” he responded, as he politely declined.

Well, he needn’t have worried. “Shakespeare Abridged,” as played by the three talented actors from the Cayman Drama Society, is far from high brow. Funny, yes. Entertaining, yes. High brow, hmm, maybe for a fleeting couple of minutes when Rory Mann – who pulls double duty as actor and director – delivers a heartfelt rendition of Hamlet’s “To Be or Not to Be” soliloquy.

Mostly it’s a rollicking romp through Shakespeare’s 37 plays in 97 minutes – a feat that is clearly impossible, but that doesn’t stop these guys.

Any “preeminent Shakespeare scholar” (you’ll get the reference when you see the show) expecting to see an exhaustive, insightful, accurate and serious exploration of all The Bard’s works should probably enter with lower expectations or, at least, fortify themselves with a few glasses of wine before taking their seat. No one is going to pass their English Lit exams by watching this play either. In fact, you may never have read a word of Shakespeare or seen a single play of his and it’s very likely you’ll still enjoy this.

This is Shakespeare for the masses, in a way, as the playwright himself intended with his bawdy comedies (“A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream”) and sometimes gruesome tragedies (“Titus Andromedus,” which is delivered here as a cooking show!) that appealed to the rowdy audiences of Elizabethan England. At the Prospect Playhouse, there’s some rap, some farce, plenty of dodgy wigs and puffy pants, oodles of cross dressing, a smattering of audience participation and an occasional flinging of props off the stage.

Rory Mann, Chris Mann and Malcolm Ellis take on a dizzying array of roles, as one might expect. Just so the audience is entirely clear that this is an extremely potted version, Ellis points out early on that there are more than 1,000 characters in the entire works of Shakespeare. So, no, clearly not every character, nor even every play, gets a look in. Coverage of one play is handled by dint of being mentioned in passing (sorry, “Timon of Athens”), but in this fast-paced, laugh-a-minute show, that counts, right? The handling of the historical plays (Richard II, Henry VI, etc.) is done quite masterfully and hilariously as an American football game, with the crown being used as football, passed from one monarch to another.

The show was created by the Reduced Shakespeare Company and written by Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield, and first performed in 1987 at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Nearly 30 years later, it’s still drawing plenty of giggles and guffaws.

So, sit back, relax and get ready for an evening of cleverness, wit and laughter that will keep you smiling long after you leave the theater.

From left, Chris Mann, Malcolm Ellis and Rory Mann in a scene from ‘Anthony & Cleopatra.’
From left, Chris Mann, Malcolm Ellis and Rory Mann in a scene from ‘Anthony & Cleopatra.’

Interview with Rory Mann

What particular challenges have you faced in the staging and acting of this production?

The pace of the show is extremely fast with many quick costume changes (particularly for my character), which initially was difficult to determine when rehearsing the show without costume and props. Once we started rehearsing with these in place, it became apparent how crucial our backstage crew were going to be to the process. I can’t emphasize enough how important these team members have been. For as much action as there is on stage, there is an equal amount (if not more) happening behind the curtain – and the applause we receive each night most definitely has to be shared with them for their contribution.

How does it feel acting alongside your father, an original cast member, in such a small production?

The process has been enlightening. I don’t think I fully appreciated just how similar we are until starting this exercise. It’s been fun and we’ve shared a lot of laughs.

As the other two cast members were in the original staging on Cayman soil, was it easier to get them to reprise their parts while you took on a new one or did you switch it up?

I feel extremely lucky to have been able to secure both Chris and Malcolm Ellis – both of whom have been an asset in pulling this production off. I knew going into it that I wouldn’t be switching up the roles and I would be stepping into the role previously performed by the hilarious Dan Morisseau. Both Chris and Malcolm brought a lot of knowledge to rehearsals, and it was great being able to work in some of the original gags as well as work together on adapting new ones.

How easy is it for you to be the director of the play you’re an actor in, especially since the very nature of the production calls for lighting quick reactions/responses?

The show lends itself to being self-directed, so for us as actors on stage it was very much a collaborative effort. Rehearsing with Chris and Malcolm was easily the most enjoyable aspect of the process and the part that required the least amount of work. Both of them had very clear ideas of who their perspective characters were and the script is very detailed.

At times it was difficult to be fully in character whilst thinking about all the other mundane things that had to happen in order for the show to be pulled off – but I had a lot of support from my cast, crew and producer. I didn’t fully anticipate the amount of work that went into directing a show on the back end but it’s definitely put me in a good place for the next one!

What qualities, do you think, do each of the actors (beside yourself) bring to the part?

Patience, knowledge, perseverance, physicality and a well-developed funny bone.

Do you think you have to be a Shakespeare buff to enjoy it?

Some of the jokes are definitely geared towards those with a knowledge of The Bard. But the show’s physicality and slapstick nature has broad appeal to audiences young and old.

Anything else you’d like to add?

A massive thank you to our cast and crew for making this all possible and such a rewarding experience.

Interview: Elphina Jones

Tickets are selling at a brisk pace for the show, so it is highly recommended that you purchase early to avoid disappointment. The show’s remaining dates are June 16-18 and 23-25. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. and the show starts at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $25 for adults and $15 for children and can be purchased online at