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Friday, 17 August, 2001, 10:45 GMT 11:45 UK
Twisting with the Bard
Shakespeare for Breakfast
Shakespeare for Breakfast beg for an audience
By BBC News Online's Olive Clancy in Edinburgh

Shakespeare is always the most popular playwright in Edinburgh and this year is no exception.

You can see The Tempest, three productions of Macbeth, two of The Taming of the Shrew, one each of Comedy of Errors, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Hamlet, Richard III, Henry V and two of Twelfth Night.

In addition there's a production of Coriolanus in Polish and English, and an Othello, performed by four actors with percussion and puppets.

Hamlet! The Musical features a mirror ball and a Madonna moment
Much was made earlier this week of a review of a production of Macbeth which said that the performances were "let down" by the script.

The town howled - how could one of the most famous plays in the world be let down by a script?

Very easily - for this is Edinburgh Festival and things are rarely what they seem.

There's a production of King Lear called Executive Lear set in the management offices of a theatre.

Or how about catching up with the Reduced Shakespeare Company which performs the complete works of Shakespeare in about an hour and a half.

Theatr Modjeska offers a class-war version of Coriolanus
A 10-second Hamlet is the highlight of that show.

But how about Hamlet! The Musical, which is packing them in at the C venue.

The show itself does actually follow the lines of the plot, but in fact has little to do with Shakespeare, or indeed the Prince of Denmark as you might know him.

Gertrude sings the blues, Ophelia goes mad in a distinctly rock-chick fashion and Hamlet is a sweet, but harmless, dolt.

Ed Jaspers and Alex Silverman who wrote both book and music for the show say the storyline is perfect for a musical.

I was not expecting the way it turned out but it was hilarious and at moments quite profound

Audience member at Shakespeare for Breakfast
"It's got everything, drama, love story, tragedy, young meek heroine and naïve but loveable hero - it's perfect for a musical," says Jaspers.

They wrote the show as a parody of musicals and the cast does indeed break into versions of West End favourite tunes.

Undoubtedly some audience members coming along for a taste of the bard have not got what they came for.

"People have been shocked - one night a couple arrived and when it started they looked at each other and quickly left," says Silverman.

Hamlet! The Musical
Hamlet! The Musical: An eclectic melee of musical styles
Jaspers and Silverman say they wrote the show purely because they hated musicals and wanted to commit the greatest artistic travesty possible.

They were surprised by the response to the show, which is certainly warm, even if it is a far cry from Hamlet as Shakespeare intended.

The pair remain are unrepentant.

"I wouldn't go as far as saying it would help anyone, but Shakespeare is such a sacred cow that if it breaks down the barriers then good," says Silverman.

It is true that there are audiences for these Shakespeare-with-a-twist shows that would never sit through a classical performance.

Morning snack

I joined a croissant-eating and coffee sipping audience for Shakespeare For Breakfast.

This Fringe Festival institution has been running for 10 years, with various acts and various casts.

It always runs in the morning and always has something, however vague, to do with Shakespeare.

Undoubtedly the morning I saw it, there were plenty of people in it for the refreshments.

But the show, though basically a comic revue, includes whole Shakespeare speeches, from As You Like It, Romeo and Juliet and The Taming of the Shrew.


The theme was love and the performance managed to place various Shakespearian sentiments about love in a contemporary context.

One audience member told me she had not come anticipating straight, if truncated, Shakespeare.

"I was not expecting the way it turned out but it was hilarious and at moments quite profound," she said, adding that though she knew the works performed she had never listened to them in quite the same way before.

The Shakespearean speeches were worked into contemporary romantic situations to great effect.


If there is a criticism to be made, I would say that there was not enough Shakespeare, and the audience could certainly have taken more on board.

But others did not agree.

"I don't think you want to have a highly educational experience that early in the morning but it's light-hearted and you do get just enough Shakespeare to take in something," another audience member told me.

Shakespeare himself was a bit of an impresario and very interested in the commercial success of his plays.

No doubt he would be spinning in his grave with glee at the thought of Edinburgh Festivals to come.

'Alas poor Yorrick'
Extract from Hamlet! The Musical
'I heard it in a different way'
Comment on Shakespeare for Breakfast
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