William Shakespeare's Long Lost First Play (abridged), Reduced Shakespeare Company, Birmingham REP - review and pictures
As the three-man company tells it, they were staying in a Leicester hotel last year and came across a hole in a car-park.
In the hole were some old bones and under the bones a thousand pages of manuscript, all written in the six genuine authenticated hand-writing styles of William Shakespeare.
Analysis showed that the manuscript was probably written when the budding Bard was just 17 and contained elements and characters from most of his adult works.
In its original form the manuscript would take over a hundred hour to perform and need hundreds of characters, so the Reduced Shakespeare Company have edited this down to a manageable ninety minutes and uses a cast of just three to represent all the characters—which they achieve with the use of some nifty costume changes and the occasional use of puppets.
They also use audience participation and two of those sitting in the front row were invited to go onstage to provide the water effect for the storm scene in The Tempest and others were given small water pistols to spray the actors with water. However, the actors then produced industrial sized water pistols and turned them on the front row.
With misquotes and laboured puns the script is hilariously witty. It is Shakespeare, but not as he wrote it.
The plot of this "hundred hour's traffic of our stage" centres on the "merry war" and "ancient grudge" between Puck and Ariel and anticipates some of Shakespeare's most popular plays.
There are some topical notes though with references to Brexit, Kate Winslet and Viagra and the whole piece is delivered at breath-taking pace. Richard III gets de-humped by magic-though only for a short while-and there is a wicked version of Macbeth's three witches.
There are some unlikely pairings, such as Lady Macbeth and Romeo, and characters told to "Beware the Ides of February".
Joseph Maudsley, Matthew Pearson and James Percy perform prodigious feats of memory to deliver their lines and create an entertaining evening for Shakespeare lovers, although purists may object to the substantial liberties taken with the characters and some of the Bard's most famous lines.
The Long Lost First Play is repeated today.
By Jerald Smith