Review: The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) (The Classical Theatre Project)

A night with The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) at Lower Ossington Theatre in Toronto brings laughter, puke tornadoes, and a definite good time

An unfortunate few will hear the words “Do any of you want to come see a play with me? The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)?” and then proceed to wave their arms with unbridled glee and shout affirmatively. While this wasn’t exactly how the scenario went, I did find a willing playgoer in my friend Jenn to accompany me to the Lower Ossington Theatre (upstairs) to bask in the Bard, presented by The Classical Theatre Project, on a rained out Friday evening.

I’d done a little preliminary research on the show, having never heard of a play compiling all of Shakespeare’s works, and was delighted to learn that it was a comedy. It’s a comedic mash-up of Shakespearean proportions, but also a marathon of wit, slapstick, and fleet-footed improvisation for its cast of three.

The Classical Theatre Project had already mounted the show earlier this year, which resulted in a sell-out run at Casa Loma during the summer. After witnessing their dexterous performances and sharp repartee, it doesn’t surprise me in the least that Matt Drappel, Kevin Ritchie and Jeff Hanson, directed by Charles Roy, were able to pack the audience to the point of overflow.

The show itself is a quick and dirty breakdown of every single one of Shakespeare’s plays, from Romeo and Juliet to Titus Andronicus, the comedies, histories and Hamlet (done in three different ways). Some plays receive a little more attention than the others, the comedies, for example, are all fused into one section of the production although there is reason to that rhyme. No play is spared the parodic treatment and each actor steps up to the plate with gusto and energy. There’s no fourth wall here, either, so expect a high level of interactivity.

The set seems somewhat immaterial to the success of the production, as in this case the show is performed in a black box theatre with raked seating and a simple red velvet curtain as a backdrop. The only set piece is a chair, and the rest of the performance relies heavily on a stockpile of props that the actors use with hilarious efficiency. Costume pieces appear and disappear as the three men cycle through characters. Wigs play a huge role to distinguish female personas, but Jeff, Kevin and Matt sport tights the entire way through and seem to enjoy the freedom of mobility they allow.

One of the things that impressed me the most about this production was the physical prowess of the actors. There was no holding back by any of the three guys on stage, the amount of energy and enthusiasm put into each line, each pratfall, each death scene (there are a few, consider yourselves warned) was not only marvelous, but to be marveled at. The fact that the audience was laughing the entire time, myself and Jenn included, is a testament to the way these actors were able to warm up the room and keep us all in the palms of their hands.

Kevin, Matt and Jeff each stand out at times, but also support each other really well. It’s a wholehearted group effort and I think the show is better for it. I’d recommend this to anyone who is a regular theatre goer, but I’d also beseech you to try and drag along some of your less theatre-enthusiastic friends. You know, those people who hear “Shakespeare” and roll their eyes. I dare them not to have a great time. I’d also suggest sitting in the front row (I’d call it the ‘Splash Zone’) if you want to make the most out of your experience. Jenn and I didn’t and certainly regretted it after.


  • The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) is playing at the Lower Ossington Theatre (100A Ossington) for one more night on November 3rd,2012.
  • Show times are at 7pm and 9:30pm.
  • Ticket prices range from $28-$42.
  • Tickets are available online or through the box office at 416-915-6750.