William Shakespeare’s Long Lost First Play (abridged)

‘William Shakespeare’s Long Lost First Play (abridged)’ is a riotous comedy scripted by Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor of The Reduced Shakespeare Company, often referred to as a ‘trio of Modern Marx Brothers’. The dialogue with its rhyming couplets may sound as though the script is 400 years old, but the references to present MPs and nearby businesses, along with many mentions of the cinema and music industries, the whole show appeared improvised as it moved along at a cracking pace.

This exceptionally funny show is being presented by the Melville Theatre Company in the Melville Theatre, at 393A Canning Highway in Palmyra. With curtain up at 8.00 pm, the 2-hour show runs on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings until the 4th December. Tickets:  $23 Full, Bookings:  TAZTix 9255-3336.

The scene:           Modern day in Western Australia.

The Set: Designed by Vanessa Jensen, the set comprises three large walls at the rear of the stage, with short corridors between them. The walls are wallpapered with A3 sheets of paper containing the names of the 1,300 characters in the complete collection of Shakespeare’s plays. The names were written in script by the construction team. The sheets of paper were then soaked in cold tea to add a tired patina and adding a velum appearance. Huge amount of work but well worth the effort. The few props included a cauldron, antique writing desk, globe, and a large quill.

Set Constructed by:         Peter Bloor, Ross Bertinshaw, Jacob Jensen, Susan Lynch, Valerie Henry, Barbara Lovell, Lyn Hamilton, Siobhán O’Gara, and Norma Davis. A labour of love.

Lighting and AV design:                 This is Jacob Jensen’s best work to date. With such a rapidly flowing dialogue, he had created definition between scenes. Other than the myriad of weather effects, Jacob has a white light on the walls for present day, and a soft warm candlelight for the actors performing. The AV screen on the proscenium arch showed the Act and Scene written, again in ancient script, on a cream background.

Sound design:                    Lars Jensen had a busy running order and some very well selected music and effects. A very good soundscape.

Bio Box operator:             Vanessa Jensen, did not miss a beat.

Stage managers:              Clare Talbot and Jeff Hansen.

In the dim light, a character in a large, hooded cape with face hidden, Mick Thomason (Thomas Dimmick) stands at the front of the stage. He quotes a few famous lines from some of Shakespeare’s 39 plays. The other two performers, Eddy Graceton (Grace Edwards – see how the first and surnames have been reversed for the characters) and Winston John (John Whinnen) move to centre stage and the lights  reach full brightness.

The serious two-minute opening dialogue immediate changes to light-hearted banter, with Eddy – who is wearing a mermaid’s outfit, explains how Disney films are based in Shakespeare. She is convinced that Ariel in the ‘Little Mermaid’ was based on Ariel in the ‘Tempest’. The puns, confusion, misquoted speeches that follow, all  add to the fun. With a new character appearing every 2 minutes on average (yes, 45 different characters in 90 minutes) and the others repeatedly popping up.

The actors frantically disappear behind the walls, only to reappear complete with a substantial costume change , a new demeanour and a unique or new-fangled voice. Please do not expect a Bell Shakespeare production, this whole show is for fun.

Award-winning director, Vanessa has guided the highly experienced cast though the very cleverly constructed, tightly written but madcap dialogue. This is the style of production that may appear to the audience as casual and easy to put on; it is in fact complex in every department. The play would have collapsed with mediocre players, but Vanessa has manged to get the cream.

This 100-hour play was supposedly written by the Bard when he was 17 yrs. old and then lost in a Leister car park (by chance where the real body of Richard lll was found a decade ago). The script was reduced to 90-minutes and the team has squeezed out every ounce of humour as some of the Bard’s quotes and plays become confused.

It is not necessary to know any more than the basics of Shakespeare’s works or Disney’s children’s films to appreciate the talent on stage and their hilarious interpretation. For the whole play the performances are very physical, with the script calling for singing, musical instruments and at times decorum.

With the entrances and exits happening every 30 seconds the movement coordination, costume changes and stage management had to be first class – and it was immaculate. The 50 costumière and dresser was the fine work of Michelle Sharp.

This a very funny show crammed with expertise, that is highly recommended.