Greeting Reed Martin, long-time performer and managing partner of US comedy theatre outfit the Reduced Shakespeare Company, with a cheery “Happy fourth of July”, Scout realises it seems rather an unusual thing for a Brit to say to a resident of one of our former colonies.
“Yes,” he laughs.”Happy fourth of July you traitorous bastards.”
Martin and the RSC are currently on a tour of regional theatres, honing its latest production, The Complete World Of Sports (Abridged).
The show, which first toured the US in 2010, has been through something of a revamp for British audiences, replacing gags about baseball and American football with sports such as cricket and soccer.
“They say we’re two countries separated by a common language,” says Martin, “and by sports, it seems.”
As a result, there have been more changes to this show than any other, although it wasn’t a surprise to the RSC.
“We knew we’d have to make a lot of changes to the script,” says Martin. “So we read a lot of sports pages, and have adapted it as we toured. The audience gives you a pretty good idea of what’s working, because they will laugh. But we also talked to artistic directors at the theatres we toured, asking them what they thought was sucessful.”
Gone is a joke about baseball – replaced by cricket – and references to American athletes have been changed to British sports stars such as footballer Ashley Cole and his penalty-taking skills.
“We claim to cover every single sport in the history of man in under two hours, so we’ve broken it down into sections. We start with cavemen and end up in present day.”
It’s a tall order. But if anyone’s capable of tackling it, it’s the Reduced Shakespeare Company. First performing The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) in 1983, the company’s laugh-out-loud trademark distillation of vast volumes of literary work into 90 minutes has been a global hit.
Through productions of The Complete History of America (Abridged) to The Bible: The Complete Word of God (Abridged), the company has been to over 16 countries, totting-up titles including the longest-running comedy in London. What makes the formula so successful?
“It’s a tough one to answer,” says Martin. “It’s a bit like if you dissect the mouse, it tends to die in the process, so we try not to dissect it too much.
When pressed, he explains: “Austin [Tichenor, fellow managing partner] and I have co-written seven out of the eight shows. I guess our sense of humour translates well around the world.
“Part of its success is it’d vaudeville format – there are lots of different types of humour in it – intelligent, stupid, physical, verbal, scatological. It means if you don’t like a joke, there’ll be another one coming up pretty quickly.”
Sport is familiar ground for the actor, who played baseball at college, before deciding to become a minor league baseball umpire.
“Then one day I followed a pretty girl to theatre class and thought ‘wow! People here applaud you rather than throwing fruit and vegetables at you’.”
The dedicated sports fan, whose home is northern California, says during his many visits to the UK he has “got into soccer” as well as heading over to legendary cricket ground The Oval to watch a match.
“I like cricket,” he says – a rarity among many Brits, let alone foreigners who find the sports intricacies confusing to say the least.
“It’s a leisurely sport. It’s like baseball. There are moments of great excitement and others where you can sit in the sun and eat some food and enjoy yourself with friends.
“Actually, we have a sketch about strange European sports – from cheese rolling to dwarf tossing and even train spotting.”
As the RSC heads to London once more, Martin reveals it was while in the capital that the company hit on the idea for bringing the Sports show to Britain.
“We were in London the day it was announced that the city had been awarded the Olympics,” explains Martin. “It was like: ‘ah ha!’
“It’ll be great to come back,” he continues. “We’ve had great success there – at one point we had more shows running in London than Andrew Lloyd Webber.” He adds with a grin: “We’re funnier than him, anyway.”
The Complete World Of Sports (Abridged)
July 17-August 25
The Arts Theatre
Great Newport Street