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May 18, 2009 | by  | in Theatre | [ssba]

“Brand new Shakespeare play” premieres Vic this week

Interview with Professor Gary Taylor and actors Paul Waggott, Jonny Potts, Kate Clarkin and George Hirst

This week Victoria University will host the World Premiere of William Shakespeare and John Fletcher’s ‘lost’ play, The History of Cardenio. “It’s a brand new Shakespeare play!” says Paul Waggott, who plays the title role of Cardenio.

Shakespeare and Fletcher’s original script does not survive. Visiting Professor Gary Taylor has reconstructed a script from an eighteenth-century adaptation, Double Falsehood, by Lewis Theobald. The play is based on the story of Don Quixote and about “young romantic and sexual relationships”, Professor Taylor says.

In parts, the ‘corrupted’ eighteenth century adaptation is radically different and in others there is little change at all. Creating the text has involved identifying what was added by Theobald and rewriting missing sections in a style assimilating Fletcher and Shakespeare’s. Taylor likens the process to restoring a painting that has been re-varnished or repainted; it’s about “recreating what the original looks like” with “creative conjecture”.

Professor Taylor won’t let on which bits he has rewritten. He calls the process an experiment and says that the audience is as much a part of the process as the collaborators. “Part of the job of the audience is to tell us what works as a Renaissance play and what doesn’t.”

Just as the script is a recreation of a Renaissance work, so too is the production. The production will be performed on a thrust stage, the lighting imitates candlelight and the actors are adopting the non-naturalistic acting style of the period.

The great thing about this project is that it is both a Shakespearean drama and a new work. The actors all expressed their pleasure at being the first to bring the characters in this particular script to life. “There’s no one else to tell you how to do it” says Professor Taylor.

So how did what might be the last world premiere of a Shakespeare play end up being staged in New Zealand?

Professor Taylor’s script had had several readings in the US where he lives and he says it had “reached the point where we weren’t going to learn any more from reading it.” The work needed to get on stage to be developed any further. Victoria University’s Professor David Carnegie, a Shakespearean scholar who has directed many Renaissance plays, suggested staging the play as part of New Zealand’s Compleate Workes Year. Taylor sees the Victoria University Theatre Programme as an “excellent testing realm” for his work, under the direction of David Carnegie and Lori Leigh.

The History of Cardenio is part of the Compleate Workes year in which New Zealand will produce all of Shakespeare’s plays. For more information check out

The History of Cardenio is on at Studio 77, 77 Fairile Terrace, 7.30pm, 19-23 May. Book by emailing or call 04 463 5359.

You can catch a public lecture about the reconstructed script by Professor Gary Taylor at 5.30pm 22 May in Lecture theatre 101, MacLaurin Building at Vic Uni.


About the Author ()

Fiona was named "Recessionista" in the ASPA Fashion Awards 2009 for her Takaka op-shop frock and spray painted shoes. She co-edits the arts section and also likes to write about women and other stuff.

Comments (6)

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  1. Gibbon says:

    I don’t understand the labelling of this as a brand new Shakespeare play, or a world premiere. Cardenio premiered nearly 400 years ago. Just because it’s a lost play, it doesn’t mean that everything to do with it has just been erased from history.

    I mean, sure, it’s a marketing gimmick, and a good one, but doesn’t it sort of take away from the tremendous and brilliant effort that Prof. Taylor has made, to reconstruct the play based on shaky sources?

  2. Alex says:

    Shaky sources? More like… Shakespeare sources, amirite?

  3. Gibbon says:

    Negative. You are not right.

  4. Anonymous says:

    If a script has never been performed before, and then it gets performed doesn’t that make the first performance of it the world premiere Gibbon? This script has never been performed before, so thus this is a world premiere of the script. Seems like simple enough logic…simple enough for even a Gibbon to grasp.

    The idea of the brand new Shakespeare play is a not 100% accurate, you are right, but in many ways that’s what it is since this “Shakespeare play” has never been seen by contemporary audiences. Nowhere is anyone diminishing Prof. Gary Taylor’s work – hell he’s even over here working with us and certainly recognised as the reason what we have exists at all.

  5. Gibbon says:

    Let’s not be petty. I can accept it as being a world premiere, but it isn’t a world premiere of a Shakespeare play. Happy?

  6. Anonymous says:

    Apologies if I seemed petty.

    I understand your point, but it is useful to note that it’s being advertised as a World Premiere of Gary Taylor’s reconstruction of Shakespeare’s Lost Play, as opposed to a world premiere of a Shakespeare play – at least that was the intention. It may have become confused, since the passage into existence for The History of Cardenio is a trifle confusing…

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