Originally devised by Christopher Luscombe and Malcolm McKee for the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1994, the international hit show The Shakespeare Revue returns for a tour under McKee’s direction.
A musical comedy featuring a series of songs and sketches by the likes of Cole Porter, Stephen Sondheim, Beyond the Fringe, Monty Python, Fry and Laurie and Victoria Wood, it’s a sort of tribute to the wide impact Shakespeare has made on popular culture.
As the witty Bernard Levin prologue points out, the playwright’s works are so part of our consciousness that we often quote him without realising it. The pieces here not only demonstrate the diversity of his appeal, but also form an ad hoc history of revue, from Edwardian music hall to post-war variety, and the 1960s satire boom to TV comedy sketch shows.
As well as classic skits such as Sandy Wilson’s Give Us a Rest (wherein Hamlet, Henry V and Juliet beg: “We’re fed up with being acted / And we’d like to be retracted”), some items were commissioned for the original show, including a Stiles and Drewe song in which a besotted female fan is “carrying a torch for the boy who’s carrying a spear”.
The five young performers (accompanied by a pianist) put on a slick song and dance show with deft comic turns. It may be Shakespeare-lite, but there’s something charmingly old-fashioned about this revival of a genre that has more or less disappeared from the stage where it once used to regularly captivate audiences.