‘All those writers all those pages

We’ve done it in a minute when it took them ages’

So sings the cast of CLASSIC!, thereby encapsulating the show in a nutshell. Premiering at Manchester’s Hope Mill before an Edinburgh run, this ensemble piece written by Lindsay Williams and Peter Kerry gives the audience a fast-paced reduction of more than 40 literary classics.

Betwixt two bookshelves swirls an all-singing, all-dancing, all-ridiculous performance marathon of the literary canon. My head was spinning with the rapid fire turnaround of tomes. And this suits me just fine. I’m on the edge of my seat, rubbing my hands together for a show that blows the stuffiness off an old book. The hour flew by.

Condensed into witty overviews, the recognisable themes of the books present the audience with a comedic gist if you haven’t read the works, and hilarious inside jokes if you have. With Joyce Branagh at the helm, you were always going to get daft and ingenious tomfoolery. This is Branagh at her absolute best – from a cushion with 100 uses to the delightfully dire accents, she knows how to get the best from her actors.

This cast are absolute legends. Louis Blair, Althea Burey, Amy Drake, Amy Gavin, Robin Simpson and Gareth Tempest are all absolutely brilliant. I laughed from beginning to end. I loved the characters becoming fed up with each other and criticising their craft, and I loved the slapstick and parody – the more sombre the text, the more ridiculous the take. There was also the most gentle and clever use of audience participation that drove the stories on. And smushed into a song was what must be around 30 of the books.

My absolute favourite was a film noir version of Oliver Twist. It’s a standalone corker. If I could, I would rewind it and watch it again.

Both HER Productions and Hope Mill lead the way in small scale, high production value and this kind of work raises the bar and the reputation of our theatre scene which I absolutely believe, in terms of thriving and surviving, is second to none.

I also want to thank everyone involved for saving me the arsedness of ever reading War and Peace. I’m more than happy with your version of events.

By Cathy Crabb

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