With their Fringe show Classic!, Hope Mill Theatre Group are trying to break the record of how many books they can summarise in just one hour. The previous record is 41, so the company, of course, is trying to achieve 42. So a madcap dash ensues as the cast race through the basic plots of 42 classic books that you’ve never had time to read.
The first book on the list is Moby Dick, signalled by one cast member wandering around the stage wearing a stuffed orca toy on her head and a shark fin on her back. The plot is neatly sung in the style of a sea shanty and with no time to breathe, it’s on to the next book. A near full summary is provided for the next few books, ranging in both musical style and literary genre, from Black Beauty in panto to a Chicago gangster take on Oliver Twist (and more). When it comes to the somewhat tricky Lady Chatterley’s Lover, the majority of the cast abandon the stage – leaving one poor remaining soul to take on the infamous book, with a lot of censorship bleeping over the explicit sections.
Most of the books are relegated to a few sentences and some clever visual references as time starts to run out. These are well done and do manage to get some idea of the plots across, especially the memorable summary of Lolita. There are also fun interactions with the audience who are utilised as extra cast members, usually wearing hats of characters who turn up briefly and leave or, as most often happens, die.
There is some infighting between the group over how to summarise and condense the plots of some books, which feels unnecessary. The time spent here could have been better used to fill out some of the titles briefly covered; book purists in the audience may be a little put out by just how condensed some of the plots of the books are, with the omission of some important details changing the major themes and ideas of some of these underrepresented books.
Still, the overall flow of the show is excellent, with the cast moving from one summary to the next with zero pause in-between. The jokes and gags all hit home and the audience is left breathless and overwhelmed by the stories speedily shared by this talented cast.