The Lost Musical Works of Willy Shakes (Above the Stag)

The Lost Musical Works of Willy Shakes (Above the Stag, Vauxhall, now at Assembly Rooms, Edinburgh, during Edinburgh Fringe, until August 24th)

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Time to brush up your Shakespeare with a very funny new show that suggests that if music be the food of love, then musicals would be the staple diet of audiences watching the Bard’s comedies, tragedies and histories.

Both outrageous and wildly clever, the hilarious The Lost Musical Works of Willy Shakes goes from camp to camper in its wondering what might have resulted if Shakespeare and his Fair Youth had added glitz and glamour and all that jazz to the playwright’s works and made them musicals.

Forget Kiss Me Kate, The Boys from Syracuse and West Side Story: this show sets out to prove what audiences in 1616 were missing with the writer himself swanning down the Avon with showstopping songs and Broadway belters.

Guy Hughes and Joe Leather get the measure of Willy in this love’s labour won which is extremely silly but wonderfully ingenious, adding updated riffs to the ruffs and stuff of Elizabethan and Jacobean drama.

Bickering and bitching like an old married couple, the two merry gentlemen of tomfoolery Hughes (Shakespeare) and Leather (the fair youth) create a pair of instantly lovable characters who fully engage and entertain the audience during an hour of madcap gaiety.

This is no schoolboy skit jesting at farce. This is a superbly-conceived and performed piece of entertainment that understands its subject before sending it up shrewdly and uproariously. Every scene is a palpable hit and there’s not a moment of tedious prattle to be heard.

Imagine Richard III defying gravity in favour of levity, doing the splits while playing a Wicked ruler with his sights set on success.

Or a version of Macbeth in which the three witches are Destiny’s Child, proving they are independent women while stirring up double, double, toil and trouble.  A clear case of to be or not to Beyonce.

There’s spooky and spirited fun with Hamlet, the history plays performed as a rap, and a touching tribute to smaller Shakespeare roles sung by the infamous bear from The Winter’s Tale – “Exit, pursued by me.”

Not only are both performers exceptionally able when it comes to the triple threat of singing, acting and dancing, but they write and deliver with pace, passion and poise.

The Lost Musical Works of Willy Shakes certainly deserves a life beyond the fringe and already begs for a sequel.

The show was given a well-received preview at Above the Stag and is now at the Assembly Rooms as part of the Edinburgh Fringe. If you’re in the Scottish capital wondering Is there no play, To ease the anguish of a torturing hour? then you could do no worse than to lose yourself in 60 minutes of musical mirth with Willy Shakes as ever-present mirth definitely hath present laughter.

David Guest

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