The company has staged two long-running shows, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) and The Complete History of America (Abridged), packing an extraordinary amount into two comic shows.
Now, on Thursdays, they are making it a hat-trick with The Bible: The Complete Word of God (Abridged). Theatrenow put on a coat of many colors and went to meet them.
Audience participation is a feature of your other shows. How do they fit in with the Bible? "We re-create the feeding of the 5000 at one point, and the audience play the multitude. Which is a bit of a miracle in itself, as there are about 500 of them playing 5000 biblical characters! In the Bible show, there are three of us on stage at any one time, but the audience is, in effect, the fourth performer."
There's a lot of energy in your shows. Doesn't that style of performance require very full houses to work well? What do you do on the occasions when the place is less than bursting at the seams? "We normally do very good business, which is why we're still here after nearly seven years, but when you do get a smaller house, you have to adjust your style to that. If you play as if to a full house, then the people sitting in the stalls will feel left out, as if you're performing over their heads.
"What you have to do is change the focus to them, and make it an intimate show instead. You keep the humor, you keep the routines, but it's something that a group of you are sharing together rather than a full-blown performance reaching out to the back of the theatre." This is a light-hearted take on a well-known narrative, but have you ever had any serious objections from people on religious grounds? "There was a problem with a touring version of the show a few years ago, in the Republic of Ireland, but we aren't anticipating any problem at the Criterion.
"The thing to remember is that, like our take on Shakespeare and on American history, we aren't poking fun at the subject matter, we're poking fun at ourselves and how we portray it. In fact, one of our biggest fans is a theatre chaplain!"
Hopefully the Bible show will be as long-running a hit here as the other two. Do you have regular fans of those shows, in the same way as long-running musicals do? "Not in the sense of people coming a hundred times and getting wholly wrapped up in it, no. But we do have our regulars who come two or three times a year. We have some Americans, for example, who always see the show when they fly over to England — we're the one fixed theatrical event on their holiday calendar."
The program notes are a bit confusing. Do the Reduced Shakespeare Company members play in all three plays now? "Yes, we do. And we have to be able to cover each other as well, so given we all play several roles during the show, it means we have a lot of parts to learn! On the other hand, there's variety built into the show, and the fact we have to know more than one person's part means we can swap around to break up the routine."
Of the three shows that you now perform, which is the most satirical? "The History of America, without doubt. There's been a lot of thought behind it, and as well as being very funny, you actually learn quite a lot of things you wouldn't probably have read in school history books. There's a lot of home truths there."
And what about the Bible show? "It's very different in feel to both the others. There are fewer gimmicks in it, and there's more music in it than the others, which enables us to get more background atmosphere."
And, apart from the acting, of course, why do you think this spoof, shortened version of major events, books or works of art are so popular? "As a form of theatre, provided the script is sharp enough, it's a successful genre, as the National Theatre of Brent have been proving for years. We live in an MTV-type age, where people's attention span is fairly short, and they're used to visual, bite-sized storytelling.
"And humor always helps in getting a story across — Shakespeare in Love was a good example of that. We're like that too — only shorter and funnier! Who else could make you laugh through the Bible?"
The current cast of the Reduced Shakespeare Company are John Schwab, Christian Malcolm, Rick Bland, Kyle Dadd and Michael O'Connor.