William Shakespeare’s Long Lost First Play (Abridged)
“With bated breath …” (The Merchant of Venice Act 1, Scene 3) is how someone who’d seen some good productions of the Reduced Shakespeare Company’s Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged) by Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield might anticipate another parody/merger of the works of the Bard emanating from that company. One might expect cleverness – clever merging of Shakespeare’s plots, clever manipulation of his characters, clever continuity, clever comedy, clever innuendo – and lots of energy and pace to make the cleverness work.
It is not easy to write a parody that meets such expectations. It demands an intimate knowledge of Shakespeare’s plays and characters and the rhythm and enunciation of his verse as well as the talent to manipulate them into a play that will amuse and entertain because of its cleverness. Long, Singer and Winfield managed this very successfully. Austin Tichenor and Reed Martin haven’t really made the same grade, in this play, despite an array of similar “abridgements”.
As co-artistic directors of the Reduced Shakespeare Company, they have created and performed a series of what Martin describes as “fast-paced, seemingly improvisational condensations of huge topics”, among them, The Complete History of America (abridged), The Bible: The Complete Word of God (abridged), Completely Hollywood (abridged) and The Complete History of Comedy (abridged).
In William Shakespeare’s Long Lost First Play (Abridged), written in 2016, they ‘discover’ a play by Shakespeare buried in a carpark in Leicester, ‘next to’ the bones of Richard III. The ‘found’ manuscript, written by 17year-old Shakespeare presciently entails themes and characters of all his works. Tichenor and Martin know their Shakespeare and use Puck and Ariel competing for the title of Best Fairy to introduce a vast array of his characters from Cleopatra to Lady Macbeth in every setting from Verona to Athens. Perhaps too many characters – and too many settings!
Producing a parody encompassing so many Shakespearean allusions is demanding. As well as “knowing” their Shakespeare, the cast must have the ability to change characters constantly, mix iambic pentameter with everyday speech and idiom, manage a variety of props and costumes, interact directly with the audience and sustain the comedic pace.
Tom Massey has the experience to do this, as he revealed in his 2015 production of Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged) for the Genesian. It was fast, funny and craftily tailored to the Genesian stage. With Massey at the helm, this play should be just as fast and just as funny IF the script were less contrived and more astutely edited.
Nevertheless, Massey has worked hard to give the play ‘punch’ and energy. A clear stage, some humorous sound effects and Mehran Mortezaei’s lighting design facilitate the many changes of ‘place’ – including a colourful, raging tempest.
His young cast of three also works hard. Casey Martin, Paris Change and Riley Lewis are comfortable with Shakespeare and with comedy. They know their many lines and speak them well, despite the chaos of multiple character, accent and scene changes and a flurry of props – wigs, hats, a feather duster, golf clubs, velcro-ed skirts, heavy capes, witches’ hats, a donkey mask and a puppet! Keeping the necessary pace – and the necessary focus – under such circumstances is not easy and though they do their best, the tempo and rhythm flag at times. They are gaining good experience … in a play that may work better in the hands of more experienced actors.
Photographer: Tom Massey