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Ruff Guide To Shakespeare review at Assembly, Edinburgh – ‘energetic but patchy’

Ruff Guide to Shakespeare. Photo: Ses Rama Photography

It was inevitable that the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death would not go un-marked at this year’s fringe. Aside from the usual quota of his plays, Take Thou That Theatre, in association with the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, has put together a light-hearted introduction for young people. Essentially, this is a Complete Works of Shakespeare Abridged for kids. While it bursts with energy, it’s pretty light on fresh ideas.

Writer/director Toby Hulse crams a lot of information into an hour, creating a framework aimed at educating a member of the cast as to how and why the playwright has survived in our consciousness for so long. There are fun moments such as the Insult Game, briefly exploring language and the regular honk of the Klaxon of Uncertainty, when known facts about Shakespeare are iffy.

The problem is that the pace detaches the company from engaging satisfactorily with its young audience. Hulse’s frenetic script cops out of referencing all the plays in favour of simply naming them, albeit in song, and the death list cuts too heavily into the set, even ignoring the histories. The Ruff Guide To Shakespeare might keep kids entertained for an hour, but it’s unlikely to send them rushing for tickets to Macbeth.

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Patchy educational play with bags of energy but rarely engaging