Mike Lew’s Teenage Dick explores whether it is better to be feared, or loved – and at what cost?
In the vein of Ten Things I Hate About You and West Side Story, Mike Lew’s off-broadway show, Teenage Dick, is the latest in line of Shakespeare’s classic plays reimagined and reworked into a modern, teenage setting.
Lew’s Teenage Dick is a darkly amusing, but sobering take on Shakespeare’s Richard III—originally written as a historic play, then later termed as a (much more fitting) tragedy—only in an American high school setting.
In Shakespeare’s edition, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, is a gross, nightmarish humpback on a Machiavellian quest for power – willing to stop at nothing to get it. The poisonous protagonist woos the widowed Lady Anne along the way, and slaughters his family in a cold-blooded quest to become king. The play asks whether it is better to be feared and in charge, or to be loved and happy.
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Teenage Dick follows 17-year-old ‘Dick’ Gloucester (Daniel Monks) – a strange, sly outcast with hemiplegia who is picked on for being ‘differently abled’. Lew cleverly incorporates original lines from Shakespeare’s text into Dick’s spotlighted monologues, which makes him more freakish to his classmates.
Dick’s friend Buck (Ruth Madeley) follows him around in a wheelchair, but she couldn’t be more different to her Roseland High School classmate. While Dick is bitter and scornful about his disability, claiming that he’s been socially penalised since he was born, Buck is positive, and friendly – even to Dick’s bully, Eddie (Callum Adams).
Eddie has what Dick wants – power, popularity, and the role of junior class president. Dick has nothing, but he’s willing to change that by stealing everything off high-school jock Eddie, including his ex-girlfriend Anne Margaret (Siena Kelly).
Dick deceives the few friends he has on his quest for revenge, and even defies Anne, whom eventually falls in love with him and reveals to him her deepest, darkest secret.
Teenage Dick is an interesting, one-of-a-kind show that makes the audience laugh at Dick’s self-deprecating jokes about his disability – but then leaves them squirming at his willingness to use his disability to his advantage and make his friends feel guilty, and villainous.
Really, Dick is the villain – his actions and determination to be an overlord of the school comes at a tragic price for Roseland High School and those Dick once held dear.
Lew cleverly modernises the play by using live streams of class elections, and pinging Twitter feeds, which may feel alienating for an older audience. At times it is loud, a little jarring and uncomfortable – which is exactly what Dick wants us to feel as his subjects.
Teenage Dick is powerful, authentic and darkly comical. At one hour 50 minutes, with no interval, there are plenty of opportunities for the play to end effectively, but sadly it doesn’t so it does drag with no effective purpose. Lew also hints at Shakespeare’s misogynism but it is really unnecessary, and leaves little impact on the play as a whole.
However, the performance by the six actors is absolutely spectacular. It casts light on the importance and talent of disabled actors, and the relevance of Shakespearean values today.
Teenage Dick runs at Donmar Warehouse until 1 February.
Words by Emmie Harrison-West. Photography by Marc Brenner.
Also published on Medium.