Review – The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)- Aurora Theatre


by Doug Berman





Pursuing perfection may be difficult. Pursuing comedy may be harder.

But writing a review about a play as deliriously madcap, comically adept, and audience-engaged as The Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged) – if not equally daunting – is formidable enough. And as there are, in theory, a multitude of ways to condense all of Shakespeare’s plays into two mere hours, there are about as many ways to discuss the attempt.



And just as performers of the Bard must decide whether to pitch the production to people who know “their” Shakespeare intimately, in passing, or nary at all, a reviewer must decide whether to speak directly to those who have seen the production and have droll memories to share or to those who may be willing to fork over a bit of cold cash to attend the theatre but may need some convincing first.



So let me say it straight out: the play is nothing less than comedy gold. Miss it at your peril!


The story is this: apparently, back in the day (around 1987), a few actors of Shakespeare, who therefore knew their stuff, decided to create a kind of condensed version of the plays – a kind of potted Shakespeare – that would focus on all the keen stuff and omit the less amusing bits. Or that was the idea. The result is a hilarious send-up of Shakespeare with a variety of props, accents, and modern ideas. Plus, wait for it, the cast members are three actors who interchange parts.The play quickly became a runaway hit and, oddly enough, hardly diminished Shakespeare’s star. Shakespeare remains as purely, regally, Shakespearian (or Baconian) as ever. So parody away. He can’t be grazed.


But we must get to the play. I wasn’t sure whether this is the first time this little gem has landed on Hong Kong’s shores. Likely not. But it’s hard to think any could surpass this production in terms of comic energy, timing, and verve. And based on the audience’s reaction, it’s unlikely few will be seeing any theatre as remotely funny anytime soon. The principal performers - Nicole Garbellini, Marc Ngan, and Dakota Duclo - all share, and sometimes jostle across, the stage to brilliant effect. A kind of effortless harmony that flows from the stage throughout the performance, aided by quick timing and agility. The actors are skilled in their own ways, extremely versatile and capable of stealing scenes.


Without giving too much away, some of the highlights of the evening seemed to me “The Scottish play” (ok, Macbeth), Romeo and Juliet, and the heightened anticipation of, and enactment, of Hamlet (or, shall we say, “helmet”) -- all obvious crowd favourites.



One of my favourite moments came at the close of the first half when Nicole Garbellini (also the play’s production manager) runs out the building to go after a half-crazed Marc Ngan, leaving the audience both dazed and confused.  I also enjoyed “Professor” Garbellini’s faux-serious lecture to the room before the play officially began on the virtues of the poet and the damning effects of social media and other modern vices. The poet would have approved.



Last, but not least, accolades must go to the violinist, who led the audience in a spirited rendition of certain songs whose names won’t be mentioned here to avoid giving away the game. Monica Johnston is a true find and adds layers of depth and joie de vivre to the show. So does Joyce Lo, who has a brief but memorable role at key intervals. I will never hear the name “Joyce” again without thinking of this production.



But ultimately, in a play that gives so much lee-way to its performers, the improvisational quality matters. And it is here where some of the local colour – reference to Hooters, for example – and individual physical movements matter most. In this, there is much to admire and want to see again.



For me, going forward, I expect to see Garbellini, Ngan, and Duclos’ names mentioned often in the cosy world of theatre. I, for one, will be singing their praises to the highest tier. During the intermission, someone in the audience said to the other she appreciated how “energetic” the actors were. That’s an understatement. Overly-caffeinated would be a more apt description. “Don’t try this at home!”


For more information about this production, click here.

Rate This Show: 1 2 3 4 5 Audience Rating: 2.0


  • Michael Waugh
    11 June 2017

    In his favourable review of 'The Crucible' (HKELD, Feb 17, 2017), Mr Doug Berman was so far wide of the mark that I could not believe that he and I saw the same Aurora Theatre production. He now gives a 4 Bubble review of 'The Complete Works of Shakespeare', staged by the same company, and states that the cast are often mentioned 'in the cosy world of theatre'. That 'cosy world' suggests a milieu that is self satisfied and lacking in self criticism, qualities often found in amateur theatre. I confess that I have not seen 'The Complete Works . . .' but the drift of Mr Berman's writing reveals him to be an unreliable judge of theatre.

    I see that Nicole Garbellini, Artistic Director of Aurora Theatre Company, is also one of HEKLD's reviewers. Is conflict of interest of no concern?

  • Nicole Garbellini
    24 July 2017

    Dear Michael,
    Thank you for your comment and for following HKELD. The opinion of the public is always very important to us.

    Just to put your mind at rest: taking over HKELD last year took a long time and a lot of thinking as, as you pointed out, it is not easy to run your own theatre company and an online drama publication at the same time. We keep things unbiased, and I do not personally get involved with any independent production review, including Aurora. I personally only review professional theatre as it's part of my duties and I don't see any conflict with doing so.

    Thanks again for your concern and for following us.


Post New Comment