Shakespeare for laughs: The Virgin Atlantic London in Tel Aviv Festival

The American troupe is principally coming over here to participate in the inaugural Virgin Atlantic London in Tel Aviv Festival, which takes in a range of disciplines in Tel Aviv November 27-30.

'Hamlet's Big Adventure!' (photo credit: JULIE MCMLELLAND)
'Hamlet's Big Adventure!'
(photo credit: JULIE MCMLELLAND)
Willie the Shakes would, no doubt, have approved. While there are many learned scholars around the world, who – quite rightly – revere Shakespeare’s plays and other works of merit, the Bard is also lauded for writing for the common man. Indeed, it is said that people of all ilks, of all levels of education and social status, would saunter into London’s Globe Theater in the early 17th century to catch a performance of Hamlet, The Merchant of Venice or As You Like It.
Hence, one may surmise that the iconic playwright would have enjoyed the efforts of the Reduced Shakespeare Company (RSC), which is set to present its Hamlet’s Big Adventure! laugh-a-minute production across the country.
The American troupe is principally coming over here to participate in the inaugural Virgin Atlantic London in Tel Aviv Festival, which takes in a range of disciplines in Tel Aviv November 27-30. The Shakespeare show will be proffered to audiences in Jerusalem (Jerusalem Theater, November 26, 8:30 p.m.), Haifa (Haifa Auditorium, November 27, 8:30 p.m.), and Tel Aviv (Cameri Theater, November 29, 12 noon, and November 30, 8:30 p.m.).
Austin Tichenor, who cowrote Hamlet’s Big Adventure! together with Reed Martin – Chad Yarish completes the lineup here – says he first encountered Shakespeare’s works in typically left-field fashion. He says he got his first inkling of the iconic English writer’s genius “from Star Trek, of course!” irreverently adding “Didn’t everybody?”
Sadly, I was one of the many of the rank-and-file who came across the Bard’s material in a stale and definitively uninspiring high school environment.
Tichenor was lucky enough to expand his handle on Shakespeare’s oeuvre through other, far more entertaining, media.
“I was also fortunate to grow up in the San Francisco Bay Area and attend productions at the American Conservatory Theater,” he recalls. “Fortunately, my first encounters with Shakespeare were through performance onstage or on film. I struggled reading Shakespeare in high school (as most people do), but since I’d seen it performed, I knew it was possible for it not only to make sense but be amazing. I wanted to learn to speak that language the way some people want to learn how to play a musical instrument.”
And there was no stopping Tichenor after that. He and Martin have served as the RSC artistic directors since 1992, 11 years after the company was founded, and have cocreated 10 stage comedies, and written three books, as well as a handful of short films and radio shows.
Star Trek may – or may not – have sparked Tichenor’s interest in the Bard’s writings, but his no-holds-barred take on the plays was also spiced up by the Monty Python gang. “In every way! Not only were they amazing comic writers, they were great performers who acted even their silliest and most ridiculous sketches with utmost seriousness and commitment.”
Tichenor says that the Vaudeville-style entertainers of yesteryear have also fueled the RSC way, citing a roll call of iconic entertainers: “the deadpan reactions of Buster Keaton; the anarchic physicality of The Three Stooges; the absurdist wordplay of the Marx Brothers; the snappy patter and timing of Abbott and Costello.”
Almost nothing is sacred to the American RSC lot. They call the production they are bringing over here a prequel, which, naturally, allows them carte blanche to imagine, or reimagine, how the various characters got to where they were by the time the famed playwright dipped his quill in his inkwell. Tichenor feels that, in so doing, he and his pals are making the plays more accessible to far wider consumer sectors and, possibly, getting them to take a look at the original volumes.
“For us, condensing and reworking Shakespeare’s works is a fun way to reinterpret these amazing stories – like a band covering someone else’s classic song. We also think there’s more inherent comedy in his histories and tragedies than people think (and more pathos and genuine pain in his comedies). Mostly, we want people to laugh and enjoy themselves, but if we encourage them to read the original works or think of them in a new way, then that’s a great bonus!”
Hamlet’s Big Adventure! is, as to be expected, a highly visual and physical affair. Tichenor says that is always a given for members of the Reduced Shakespeare Company lineup. “The RSC originated at Renaissance Faires in California in the early 1980s, where the performance style was fast, funny and physical. When Reed joined the company, in 1989, he brought with him all the physical comedy skills he learned at Clown College and on the road, touring with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus for two years. A classic clown routine has found its way into Hamlet’s Big Adventure! (a prequel).”
The company has been here before, and Tichenor says Israeli audiences responded “fantastically!” He quips that the forthcoming jaunt here “gives us a great opportunity to practice our Hebrew.”
He also says there are – almost – no taboos in comedy. “We like to think there isn’t anything you can’t joke about, but if it’s about a particularly sensitive subject, then it better be a pretty damn good joke. That said, we like to make jokes about the powerful, not the powerless. Punching up is comedy; punching down is bullying.”
Prepare to have your ribs well and truly tickled.
For tickets and more information: Jerusalem - *6226 and, Haifa – (04) 837-7777 and, Tel Aviv – (03) 606-0900 and