Modern day Shakespeare has seen various interpretations relocate the classic texts to American high schools. Castles become classrooms and courtroom drama is played out on the football field. Mike Lew’s play Teenage Dick manipulates this tried and tested formula, using it to create a new play that sheds old stereotypes.
Teenage Dick is a reimagining of Richard III. Those who know nothing about the original play will probably know about the speculated murder of his nephews bybhis command, his relation to a car park in Leicester and his physical depiction in Shakespeare’s text. It was Shakespeare’s characterisation that led Gregg Mozgala to commission Lew to write Teenage Dick. As an actor with cerebral palsy, Mozgala wanted Lew to create a play which challenged the notion that disability is a shortcut to the characterisation of a villain. Lew’s interpretation doesn’t encourage inclusion, it demands it, stipulating in the play’s notes that all future productions should “cast disabled actors… in no case should able-bodied actors ‘play’ disabled.”
What shines through in this script is that this isn’t a blanket statement on the disabled experience. Lew’s play was written specifically for Mozgala as Richard and Shannon DeVido as Buck, penning the script to write about the specificity of their particular disabilities. When the play was cast for its London production the script was re-written again, tailoring itself to discuss Daniel Monks’ hemiplegia. This script allows the actors to share their own experiences, lending this piece a real authenticity.
The combination of comedic rom-com clichés and classical tragedy is tackled by a brilliant cast. I am completely captivated by Monks’ portrayal of Richard; he brings the character’s villainous origins into this new setting, creating a layered character more engaging than the original two dimensional stock character. In his soliloquies he commands the audience’s attention and has a hypnotic control over the humorous peaks and melancholy troughs of the script. The energy of all the performers elevates the script and allows this 110 minute straight-through play to remain thoroughly entertaining.
Chloe Lamford’s set is exactly what I want from an all American high school – gymnasiums, full-length lockers and streamer and balloon covered school dances. The set is used in surprising ways meaning that the seemingly generic design has a lot of artistic intelligence.
Especially on the day of such a monumental vote, the audience acknowledge the political humour with a weary familiarity. Politics aside, the piece resonates because it has found a magnificent formula for Shakespearean reinvention; not blindly embracing traditional canon, but examining it to find how it can serve a new audience hundreds of years on. Said inspection has uncovered a piece which is purposeful and definitely worth the watch.
Teenage Dick is playing the Donmar Warehouse until 1 February. For more information and tickets, visit the Donmar Warehouse website.