The play is placed in 1623 depicting the compositor’s battle with their own demons, aspirations, alongside the morality of meanings and desires to leave their own fingerprint (stamp) within the Folio book.
The printing ‘shop’ scene is set by crazed printers obsessed with fingerprints and rewriting history based on their own experiences. Dupre’s focus here appears to highlight the importance and reference of this book, as the First Folio collection edition of Shakespeare’s dramatic texts, has its 400th anniversary in 2023. To mark the occasion Dupre’ showcases a retelling of events, in a Macbeth style, drawing on the influences of language and events in the print shop at the time the original Folio was produced. The scenes are tense fraught with egos and desperation. The script cleverly draws you to the influences of the compositor’s fingerprints and printing on the text they create and the history they are making.
The key three actors John Leason played by Tre’ Medley an apprentice sent by his uncle shows up to start his new job. Keen to do well but has his own agenda when he is given the responsibility of the creation of print. John is greeted by an irate stressed publisher Isaac Jaggard (Kaffe Keating) whom co runs the printers with his frail father William Jaggard who is (never seen in the play). Isaac is on mission to have the Folio book completed on time. John becomes fixated on resetting the type for the witches and Isaac and John’s characters play out the misalignment of the Macbeth witches and here it takes a dark turn. John remembers versions he read as a child that are being misrepresented within this version of the Folio and frustrations spill over as he argues the Hecate scene which he explains was a later edition by Thomas Middleton. John wants to readdress this, much to the angst and concerns from John who is fearful of punishment retribution if he offends the King.
David Monteith’s character played by Richard Bardolph the long standing compositor who is loyal to William and has known Isaac from being a child is the ‘old hand’ he is knowledgeable and suffers long standing illness which enables John to become prolific in his desire to be the best and have control. John and Richard’s relationships are tumultuous at times as they compete against each other’s wits and determination, to the point of acknowledgement that the young compositor (John) wants help, to progress and develop and he is a competent in his work ethic. He requests Richard’s permission to mentor and be a team and create a style and have their own print shop.
This is a complex storyline a play fully encompassed within thespian Shakespeare annotations and history and will be a must for lovers of these genre’s. The lighting was dramatic and the letters appearing on the walls and scripts was clever. It made it feel real and contemporary. To be able to see the ‘life, behind the scenes’ depicted within the print shop of creating fingerprints and words was a fascinating concept to experience and was well acted out. Clear and concise language, and no faltering from the actors.
I would consider reading the reviews and the synopsis as this will not appeal to everyone’s taste. Dupre’’s reflections and the writing is exquisite, charming with a sense of realism. This is a celebration of the power of words, with some humour and battles of integrity. The publication of the 400th Folio still has relevance and hopefully as portrayed in Compositor E will continue to educate and delight audiences in the future.
Playing until 7th October, https://www.omnibus-clapham.org/compositor-e/
Reviewer: Michelle Knight
Reviewed: 22nd September 2023
North West End UK Rating: