The Bard and the Mini Coopers

Shakespeare gets a makeover as his lines are used in an ingenious version of The Italian Job
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The Independent Culture

Any play that features the following line at the top of its promotional literature - "Thou art only supposed to blow the bloody doors off!'' - has got to be worth, at the very least, checking out. Bill Shakespeare's Italian Job, which has a world premiere run at the Edinburgh Festival is a novel idea.

The play retells the story of the hugely popular 1969 Michael Caine caper movie about a Turin heist using only lines taken from the Bard's canon. Writer/director Malachi Bogdanov, who has managed to shoe-horn in at least one line from each of the 38 plays, claims that it is the first all-new piece ever to be constructed entirely from Shakespeare's writing.

Using an internet program that searches for all the references to particular words in the canon, Bogdanov meticulously pieced together the play over the course of six months and seven drafts. The result is a neat wedding of ancient and modern. For instance, one exchange between gang leader Charlie Crocker (played in the film by Caine and in the play by RSC actor Gilz Terrera) and a cohort lifts dialogue verbatim from Richard III. "And what of the robbery?" asks the henchman. "Plots have I laid and inductions dangerous," replies Charlie.

Bogdanov recalls: "I got a tremendous buzz when I found, say, an obscure bit of King John that fitted perfectly. My play shows that Shakespeare is as relevant today as he was 500 years ago - fundamental human emotions don't change."

It's all very amusing, but is there a danger that the new piece will be seen as merely one extended gimmick that will satisfy fans of neither Shakespeare nor The Italian Job? Bogdanov - who has previously directed 16 productions of the Bard at the English Shakespeare Company and elsewhere - says he is bracing himself for such criticism. "Purists will hate it and say I've tortured the language. But I've always believed in pushing boundaries. Change comes at a price. The only way to create new work is by challenging old work. We're not pretending it's a new Shakespeare. People should enjoy it as a fun, fresh piece of theatre. It doesn't come with the weight of Hamlet or Macbeth - it's the smiling face of Shakespeare."

Bogdanov, who is going on to direct an Italian-language production of A Midsummer Night's Dream on Sardinia, is clearly fired up by the whole concept of this "sampled" Shakespeare. "If this works, the sky's the limit," he beams. "There is enough material across the 38 plays to recreate any plot you want. I've a whole canon of my own to explore. I want to do Shakespeare's Godfather, Shakespeare's Star Wars and From Shakespeare With Love, a 007 Shakespeare."

So the hottest ticket at next year's Edinburgh Festival could well be The Bard meets Bond.

'Bill Shakespeare's Italian Job' is at the Teviot Debating Hall, Bristo Square, Edinburgh (0131-226 2151) 1-25 August