I first saw – and fell in love with – the original Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) when the Reduced Shakespeare Company brought it to the Seymour Centre in the late 90s.
I found myself caught up in the action as the actors stole my programme half way through the show and ripped it apart. I still have that torn up programme, a treasured memento. My girlfriend at the time even took to the stage briefly during that performance to provide Ophelia’s scream.
Years later, I had the great privilege of directing that play for the Genesian Theatre Company in 2015. It was such a joy to take the wheel of such a well loved work and we had a lot of fun bringing it to the stage. We even toured it to the Theatre Royal, Hobart.
When I saw that the Reduced Shakespeare Company had written a new play, William Shakespeare’s Long Lost First Play (Abridged), I was thrilled and tremendously keen to direct it as an Australian premiere.
This new play in has even more Shakespeare in it. The writers – Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor – have very cleverly delved into the depths of their central conceit – the discovery of a brand new Shakespeare play buried in a carpark in Leicester amid some unimportant old bones. Written when the Bard was a spotty 17-year-old in Stratford, this manuscript seems to include the first drafts of all of his later body of work that we are familiar with today, all jumbled together in a 100-minute play.
Puck and Ariel battle it out in quest of the title of Best Fairy. Cleopatra falls for Eeyore’s Bottom. Hamlet finds that Lady M is great at motivating him to be more of a ‘to be’ Hamlet rather than a ‘not to be’ Hamlet, while Lear’s three daughters the weird sisters predict, incant, and prepare potions on a Scottish moor…
We even take time to investigate some of the more puzzling stage directions from the Bard: Where, for example, is the coast of Bohemia, as sighted in The Winter’s Tale?
“Does Bohemia have a coast?” cries one of our mariners, Cardenio, aboard a tempest-tossed pirate ship.
“It does not, but I know a guy who knows a guy,” assures our pirate captain, Pompey.
And we do indeed see the famous bear pursuit mentioned in stage directions from that same cold tale, though in our production it plays a little differently, and with more honey …
This show is a joyful celebration of the magic of Shakespeare vigorously mixed with a splash of fun. The people on stage have a genuine (if sometimes confused) love of Shakespeare’s plays and language, and they want to share this love with you. On the whole I hope the mood is “Yay! Shakespeare is awesome, let’s celebrate and have fun”, as we explore what happens if you put all of his characters and scenes into the one amazing play.
And now, I’ve just seen that the Reduced Shakespeare Company have released another new Abridged Shakespeare …