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

Toronto’s Classical Theatre Project combined Shakespeare with beer for a one-night performance

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare {Abridged} played twice on Saturday night, the latest event in The Classical Theatre Project‘s ShakesBeer series.  The name is fairly self-explanatory:  Shakespeare plus beer.  As it turns out, those two things go very well together.  Throw in talented performers, a great script, and some timely pop culture references, and you have a winning combination indeed.  The one-act show was performed at Artscape Wychwood Barns, on a stage with a simple red-curtained backdrop, some simple lights and men in colourful tights.  It was quite the sight to behold.

I wish I could tell you to go see it (because I would) but this particular production was just a one-night deal, so unless you were there laughing and drinking along at either performance, you missed the fun this time. Though fear not, if history is any indication then Shakespeare isn’t going away anytime soon.  Neither, for that matter, is The Classical Theatre Project. 

That’s a very good thing from what I could tell.  The performers were engaging, ridiculous and hilarious; not afraid to look a little silly and get a little dirty.  The premise of the show is that all of Shakespeare’s works — comedies, tragedies, and everything in between — are covered in a very short amount of time by three ambitious actors.  Matt Drappel, Jeff Hanson and Kevin Ritchie were incredibly enjoyable to watch and I couldn’t help but think how much fun their rehearsals must have been.  None of them dropped the pace or lost the audience’s attention for a second; we were all right there with them through the lightning-fast costume changes, exits and entrances, and even through Hanson’s recurring ‘puke tornadoes’.

I had seen the show many years ago but the content is such that no production could ever be exactly the same. It felt like seeing it for the first time all over again.  The performance is quick, fun, and has something for everyone.  While an understanding of Shakespeare’s work likely increases one’s appreciation for the show, it is by no means a requirement.  In fact, seeing his works presented in this format might even make Shakespeare skeptics a little more fond of The Bard than they were in their High School English class.

Drappel was my favourite, if not for his seemingly endless energy than definitely for his hilarious ‘happy place’ aside where he got himself back in the zone with a Taylor Swift sing-and-dance-along.  Hanson and Ritchie were equally energetic and hysterical as each brought their own brand of ridiculousness to the many roles they took on. There were a few times throughout the night where the trio made us laugh so hard we nearly spit out our beer.

The most memorable part for me started as one of the silliest but ended with Hanson delivering one of Hamlet’s soliloquies in a completely straight-faced, serious, and beautifully powerful way that had the audience so moved that you could have heard a pin drop.

It was in that moment that I knew just how strong a show this was.  When a performer is able to take an audience on a journey from explosive laughter to quiet reflection in a matter of seconds all the while holding them in the palm of their hand, you know it’s something special.  This show was definitely something special — and not just because of the brightly coloured tights.

My one complaint would be that it was hard to hear at times — partly because of where I was sitting, partly because of the lack of a sound design and partly because of the raucous laughter throughout the venue. There were definitely a few lines I missed when performers heads were turned the other way.  On the other hand, I really appreciated the simplicity (read: practical nonexistence) of the sound and lighting design and don’t know that there would have been a simple solution in that space.

If you didn’t catch the Shakespearean hilarity this time around, I would highly recommend keeping The Classical Theatre Project on your radar so that you’re able to see future productions of theirs which should be just as entertaining and relevant.  Some of which, if we’re lucky, will also include beer.  So keep your eyes open for details, prepare to support local theatre, and ask yourself the most important question of all:  to beer, or not to beer?  In my mind, there’s only ever going to be one answer.


Photo of Matt Drappel, Jeff Hanson and Kevin Ritchie provided by the Company