Laughs for both Shakespeare savant and novice alike in Unifaun’s new production

Teodor Reljic catches up with Joseph Zammit, Nathan Brimmer and James Ryder, the trio of comic actors behind Unifaun Theatre’s upcoming production of ‘William Shakespeare’s ‘Long Lost First Play’ – a farcical take on the Bard’s back catalogue, directed by Chris Gatt, in which the Reduced Shakespeare Company’s script lovingly lampoons our expectations and preconceptions of the greatest English playwright’s work

From left: James Ryder, Nathan Brimmer and Joseph Zammit
From left: James Ryder, Nathan Brimmer and Joseph Zammit

What attracted you to this play, and how did you set about making it your own?

Joseph Zammit: Apart from already being a fan of The Reduced Shakespeare Company’s work, what really sealed the deal for me was when I was told I would be acting in this comedy alongside James Ryder and Nathan Brimmer, and that to top it all off, it would be directer by Chris Gatt. Luckily the script is written in a way where the three actors (Reed, Austin and Teddy on script) break the fourth wall constantly and play themselves trying to play all the characters. The script therefore encourages you to make it your own simply by being you.

Nathan Brimmer: Genuinely? Just the thought of getting to work with [director] Chris Gatt and my very good buddies Joe and James. That was the only pitch I needed to hear. Making it my own? I play a guy called Nathan Brimmer who likes Shakespeare a bit too much. Pretty much type cast for this one.

James Ryder: With my character being a Shakespeare novice and Disney fanatic, it didn’t take much to make the character my own. 

The production will be a light-hearted take on Shakespeare’s legacy in the vein of a lot of work by the Reduced Shakespeare Company. But do you think it’s important to also have a good background in what is being gently mocked here? 

Zammit: This play is to be enjoyed two fold. There is the general silliness and quirkiness which is present throughout the entire play, and then there are also several subtle comic changes from Shakespeare’s original monologues and soliloquies that would please the Shakespeare fans as well. Since I have performed  and read several of Shakespeare’s work, it is inevitable for me to draw from my own experience to add to the piece’s comedy.

Brimmer: It’s a strange balance. The play can be enjoyed without in depth knowledge of Shakespearean dramatis personae, absolutely so. A finer understanding may enhance the groanworthyness (totally a word) of the jokes delivered. There’s a running gag in the theatre when performing a farcical comedy wherein we tend to say “Don’t worry about it too much. It isn’t exactly Shakespeare is it?”. But this is. Sort of. So. Yeah. As in any play, just learn the lines, don’t bump into the furniture and assume every joke you don’t get is a dick joke. 

Ryder: The array of jokes, references and physicality will bring laughs to both Shakespeare savant and novice alike.

Do you think that the Maltese theatrical scene needs more of such projects to ‘lighten up’ Shakespeare’s ‘image’ among theatre-goers?

Zammit: I personally don’t think so. The more there are the better sure, however I do not believe that projects to ‘lighten up’ Shakespeare are required. It is a style of theatre like any other and it would boil down to one’s own tastes. If this play would serve as a gateway drug, so to speak, to arouse interest in Shakespeare, all well and good, however if one is curious about Shakespeare, then they should read and watch Shakespeare.  

Ryder:  Well I myself didn’t know about such plays as Titus Andronichus and Henry V until I was involved in this production. Lightening-up these plays could be a good way to engage further interest in Shakespeare. 

On another note, do you think we will ever be at a point where we could put up some of Shakespeare’s more ‘difficult’ plays like Troilus and Cressida and Titus Andronichus without worrying too much about budget and bums-on-seats?

Zammit: A very good question, and one that is  very difficult to answer in brief. Personally I would love to be able to take part in a Coriolanus or any other, as you put it, ‘difficult’ plays. The bums-on-seats aspect however is where reality comes and slaps you in the face. This is by no mean simply a local issue, the same applies abroad. You don’t find many and various performances of Trolius and Cressida for instance. 

Brimmer: That’s the dream isn’t it? The issue stands that people are afraid of what they don’t understand and Shakespeare comes with this stigma of there being a language barrier. That’s why we like to stick to the classics. Even though we may not know exactly what is being said, we know that Romeo loves Juliet and Puck is mischievous, but if the audience don’t understand why then that failure falls on the heads of the actors and directors. Once we can improve performance and therefore understanding, then yeah, I’m certain we can do any of Shakespeare’s less performed works. And I look forward to being involved one way or another! 

Ryder: We’ve always had the budget and after working with the likes of Joseph Zammit, Nathan Brimmer, and Christopher Gatt, we have the talent as well. With a growing number of theatre-goers, producing such plays shouldn’t really be a problem. 

Speaking even more generally, what do you make of the local theatrical scene? What would you change about it?

Brimmer: I think it’s headed in the right direction. We are in the middle of a rapid growth and change in the theatre scene. There is almost an overabundance of productions every weekend. The important factor to me is that we are encountering more unique pieces of work. Originally devised pieces, fresh and new takes on classics and undiscovered venues. It’s exciting and should be applauded. What would I change? I’d make “Performer” an actual profession. It’s a very time consuming endeavor and making it a full time profession is the net important step.

Ryder:  I’d like to see some more light-hearted shows. We have the serious stuff but we don’t have too many “palate-cleansers” throughout the season.


William Shakespeare's Long Lost First Play will be staged at Spazju Kreattiv at St James Cavalier, Valletta, on October 7, 8; 12-15; 19-22. Bookings: