William Shakespeare’s Long Lost First Play
Writers: Austin Tichenor and Reed Martin
Director: Tom Massey
January 16 – February 13, 2021
The joyous hilarity of the Genesian’s William Shakespeare’s Long Lost First Play (Abridged) makes it a worthy rival to its very popular predecessor The Complete Shakespeare. A high energy romp through a dazzling melange of decontextualized iambic (mostly) dialogue, recontextualised story lines, regrouping of discombobulated characters and the co-opting of pop culture, this enthusiastic fast-paced performance has appeal for all comers.
Referencing Richard III and the power of the arch-influencer Shakespeare, the play purports to be a brand-new Shakespeare play discovered in a Leicester car park along with “unimportant old bones”. Apparently written by a 17-year-old Shakespeare the manuscript includes the jumbled first drafts of all of his later body of work in a single 100-hour play. The length provides a running joke throughout the play and besides irreverently referencing the often-expressed modern discomfort with a five-act drama and long speeches becomes an amusing device for collapsing one plot into another.
The complete jumbled works are loosely unified by the invention of a feud between Oberon’s servant Puck (Casey Martin) from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Prospero’s captive spirit, Ariel (Riley Lewis) from The Tempest, which results in various ridiculous anomalies. Richard III (Paris Change), for instance, undergoes de- and re-humping, Dromio a slave from The Comedy of Errors becomes partner to Juliet Capulet, the resolute Lady Macbeth turns life-coach to the procrastinating Hamlet, and the three weird sisters (and delightful stand-in witch, Esmeralda the puppet) meld into King Lear’s three daughters.
The absurdity of many Shakespearean plot devices is fully exploited, for instance,
in The Comedy of Errors. In this early play, a merchant names both his twin sons Antipholus, and gives each a slave, also twin boys, both named Dromio. What could go wrong? A shipwreck of course, another of Shakespeare’s devices, and one difficult to stage and justifiably mocked with gusto in this performance. Shipwreck gives rise to Cesario-Viola, another of Shakespeare’s favourite ploys, the woman disguised as a man, who here is incongruously paired with Richard III. Another device “the storm” is ridiculed through the extravagance of lightning flashes and thunder rolls, spectacle not metaphor the important element, and serves to highlight a showdown between Puck and Ariel.
The demands on the three actors, Martin, Lewis and Change, to fulfil the panoply of characters in quick succession as well as the multiple costume changes, is immense. And all three do a brilliant job. Martin is entrancing, bubbly and engaging – equally at home as the impudent Puck or in nunnish headgear as a very compact Lady Macbeth or as Titania’s beloved ass. Change impresses delivering the Prologue with panache and charm and distinctively absurd in his various roles from Oberon to Cleopatra. Lewis is quirkily appealing from the erroneous Little Mermaid to Captain Hook and as the querulous Ariel.
While a theatregoer with sound knowledge of Shakespeare may gain extra enjoyment from the exceptionally clever text, the interaction between the three actors, the hurly of fast-paced stage action and stage effects, and the sheer pleasure of watching three young people who relish performance make Shakespeare’s Long Lost First Play a must-see.