Ever since the advent of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, the number of attempts to deconstruct the Bard's work has mushroomed exponentially. Written and directed by Matte O'Brien, The Worst Was This has more references (of plays and things of historical/cultural significance) than you can shake as stick at. Set on a post-apocalyptic world, three women look after a tavern in a remote region. The arrival of a writer named Will has all in a flutter, but not so for other resident writer, Chris...
There's been a lot of guff in pseudo-academic circles about Shakespeare having not written any of his plays. However there is some evidence that Christopher Marlowe – Shakespeare contemporary and before his untimely death the pre-eminent Elizabeth playwright – may have contributed to three of his plays. Running with this notion, The Worst Was This is a meta-comedy that like Anne Washburn's Mr Burns, is as much a critique of storytelling as a celebration of the Bard's canon.
Three women who inhabit the tavern at first suggest a connection to the Weird Sisters. However their own distinctive personalities come to the fore and far from being masters of destiny, are as much at the whim of fate as everyone else.
Lauren Hurwood as as the happy-go-lucky Rue loves a good drink – or maybe she drinks so much because Will (Ben Clifford) is actually besotted with Odette (Beth Kovarik). However Odette only has eyes for for Chris (Robin Hellier) though his sonnets may be for someone else entirely... As Agatha, Sarah Barron is the most multi-faceted. With a penchant for cadavers, as well serving their 'leftovers' as 'meat' for stew, Agatha is cross between Mary Shelley, her creation Victor Frankenstein and literary character Mrs Lovett with Bones (Mark Jeary) as her 'Sweeney Todd'.
One of my favourite scenes of the play was Bones convincing Agatha he loved her unconditionally, even if she never succeeds in her self-imposed ambitions. Stripping away the humour and macabre elements of the conversation, here is a man who supports her 'scientific endeavours' and loves her no matter what – a touching scene where you'd least expect it.
O'Brien's play is rich in intertextual references that segue seamlessly into each other, but it's a credit to the writing, direction and performances of the actors that one accepts and understands (at least on as subliminal level) everything that takes place.
As a deconstruction of the Bard's canon and the 'rivalry' of the leading Elizabethan playwrights, The Worst Was This is a lot of fun.
© Michael Davis 2016
The Worst Was This runs at the Hope Theatre, London until 26th November 2016.