The Ruff Guide to Shakespeare, Edinburgh Festival Fringe

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There’s a good amount of Shakespeare-based work for children and young people at the fringe, which is a great way to introduce children to his work as well as give theatre makers a chance to experiment with different styles when approaching the bard’s text. The Ruff Guide to Shakespeare is a mashup of his most popular plays and characters with a biography of his life. There’s a lot packed into an hour, perhaps too much for the primary school middle years that are the target audience age. The show is otherwise well written, well performed and the story line constructed out of Shakespeare’s life gives it a solid grounding on which to sample extracts of his work.

Six Bristol Old Vic students perform Toby Hulse’s script. Though there isn’t a weak link amongst the cast, the strongest by far is Georgia Frost. She has a charisma and stage presence that the others lack, though they all show promise. The company handles their verse well, maintains high energy and warmly encourage the audience of children to join in.

The script is quick and punchy, most valuable for giving the young audience context about Shakespeare as a person in a easily digestible format framed by his “seven ages of man” monologue – a fantastic idea that parallels a short piece of text to a story. There are gags, games and songs that are interactive and playful, though more time could be taken within each activity in order to allow the audience to engage fully. The characters and scenes that are included are some of the most well known, kept short and explained well. There are a lot of them though, and the sheer amount is potentially overwhelming for the younger children in the audience.

Comparable to the Reduced Shakespeare Company’s The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged), this is a jolly, friendly romp through Shakespeare’s life and works that’s great for a young audience. Some tweaking to either cut some of the characters or pitch it to slightly older children would make this an even stronger piece, but it’s polished, slick and jolly good fun compared to similar shows on offer.

The Ruff Guide to Shakespeare runs through 19th August.

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