As a fan of Shakespeare, wordplay, and Disney (SPOILER ALERT: this show contains Disney references), I should have been the ideal audience member for the Reduced Shakespeare Company’s newest show. Unfortunately, the subject matter simply wasn’t enough to keep me engaged during this messy evening of uninspired comedy. The show follows 3 actors who are trying to stage, as the title suggests, an abridge version William Shakespeare’s (fictitious) long lost first play, an unwieldy manuscript telling a convoluted story involving every one of Shakespeare’s existing characters. Admittedly, they did manage to form moderately coherent scenes using an assortment of lines from virtually every Shakespeare play, which is no easy undertaking. Even so, this hodgepodge of Shakespeare references offers very little in the way of genuine laughs, and their plethora of puns could only get them so far.
The loosely-strung “plot” of the play follows a rivalry between Ariel and Puck, Shakespeare’s two most celebrated sprites, as they travel the world, mischievously interfering with the lives of Shakespeare’s iconic characters. Almost every scene however, exists only for the purpose of setting up some pun-based punchline, which grows tiresome very quickly. The show, which now runs almost two hours, including an interval, would undoubtedly have been far more effective as a 10 minute sketch.
It’s not that I expected some highly sophisticated commentary on the state of mankind; I’m well aware of the goofy, light comedy that the Reduced Shakespeare Company is known for. But any comedy show, no matter how deliberately insubstantial it may be, has to be sustainable throughout its own running time. “First Play” lacks the freshness and sense of variety that made their earlier work, such as their classic “Complete Works” show, so successful.
Humour, of course, is wildly subjective. So if you think this mad-cap evening of messy entertainment will appeal to your sense of humour more than it did to mine, I sincerely hope you don’t let me dissuade you. “William Shakespeare’s Long Lost First Play (Abridged)” plays through Saturday at the historic Wilton’s Music Hall, before continuing its UK tour.
By Joe Weinberg