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Cutting down literary classics in 90 minutes

Edinburgh, Aug. 9 (Reuters): The Reduced Shakespeare Company won acclaim chopping the Bard down to digestible soundbites. Now it’s taking on the history of western literature in 90 minutes.

All The Great Books (Abridged),” being performed to packed houses at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, is a literature student’s dream —Ulysses and War and Peace summed up in an instant.

The company, with its origins in Californian street theatre in 1981, is now a literary travelling circus with three troupes touring the globe and shows translated into 16 languages. Its shows — from Shakespeare to the Bible, from the Millennium to the History of America — are now being performed for a record-breaking eighth year in London. In their latest, the company principals, also known as the “bad boys of abridgment”, trot through everything from Anna Karenina to Oliver Twist in ultra-potted form.

The concept appeals to today’s instant-gratification culture, but audience feedback suggests the show is encouraging the age-old art of reading.

“Children who come and see the shows don’t ever have to read a book again,” co-writer, director and performer Reed Martin said jokingly.

“That’s a big selling point to youngsters. It’s the MTV generation. People have short attention spans. But seriously, we do have people coming up to us after the shows and saying: ‘I really do need to read Moby Dick.’”

The Harry Potter books have been a boon. “It is a bit of good luck for us. Reading is the big thing now,” said fellow performer Matthew Croke.

“As always, we are capitalising on a trend,” said Austin Tichenor, who wrote and directed the show with Martin and completes the American trio of performers in Edinburgh. “The Americans laugh uproariously and the British smile uproariously. The Japanese look away in horror. In Bermuda, they laugh at everything,” Martin said.

Compiling the 90 greatest books had them contemplating best and worst. Martin opted for Little Women as his best and Beowulf as his worst. Croke chose Dr Seuss books as his favourites and loathes “any book that has no pictures.”

Tichenor picked the works of Homer Simpson and Remembrance of Things Past.

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