Reduced Shakespeare Company have made quite a name for themselves by reducing enormous works of theatre and literature into short and witty stage plays. After the success of Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) the company added to their repertoire William Shakespeare’s Long Lost First Play (Abridged).
The conceit of Austin Tichenor and Reed Martin’s script is that these three Shakespeare enthusiasts (Casey Martin, Paris Change, Riley Lewis) have discovered William Shakespeare’s first ever play in a hole underneath a car park and they’re going to perform its world premiere, though with some cuts and changes to save time. The play is said to have been written while Shakespeare was a mere teen and it contains some of the great characters, plots, and monologues that would later show up in his much-loved classics.
Director Tom Massey approached this production with the appropriate air of fun and silliness. The script is for everyone who loves Shakespeare but also those who quickly grew tired of studying him at school or just wish there were fewer twins involved in his stories. There were plenty of opportunities for audience members to nod in recognition of famous lines or characters and some jabs at the more overdone Shakespearean tropes.
Casey plays one of the lead mischief makers in the play-within-a-play, Puck, as he and Ariel (Lewis), his rival in an enemy to lovers plot, dip and dive through time and space to meet Hamlet, Richard III, Lady Macbeth, Bottom, Dromio, King Lear, the weird sisters, and many, many others. Change, the Shakespeare purist, fills out the trio and allowed them to play such an enormous cast of characters. Costume design by Susan Carveth also helped to delineate between characters and sub-plots but the narrative moved so quickly that even changing wigs became messy early on.
The humour of the production largely comes from the fast-paced script full of word-play and punning and that meant the actors did lean a bit too much on the script to keep the laughter coming. The density of the script in many ways makes the actors’ jobs harder to carve themselves a spot in the production. Change did stand out, though, for his commitment to each individual character, including his depiction of Shakespeare himself. Unfortunately, though, Tichenor and Martin seemed to overshadow the acting as a whole.
It’s hard not to compare this production to the one that launched Reduced Shakespeare Company, especially because Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) is a brilliantly crafted exercise in theatre that descends into good-humoured chaos. This production and the Genesian Theatre rendition of it maintains the good-humour but falls short of hilarious.
William Shakespeare’s Long Lost First Play (Abridged) is running at the Genesian Theatre from January 16th – February 13th
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