Edinburgh Fringe 2019
A fascinating theatrical experience showcasing a genre, the droll, that hasn’t seen the light of day for centuries.
The country has been turned upside down, its head of government deposed in a ruthless, cynical coup. The nation is in uproar and bitterly divided. Theatre and all other forms of free expression have been declared illegal resulting in the performing elite fleeing the country in search of a more relaxed environment in which to ply their trade, the mass of mediocrity to whom this wasn’t an option being forced to find some other gainful employment and those at the bottom of the pile – too inept to earn a sustainable living in any trade – are forced underground.
No, not a cautionary tale written in 2050 looking back thirty years at the chaos that is Brexit but one that precedes it by four centuries. Oliver Cromwell has lopped off the monarch’s head, banned entertainment and forced jobbing actors to come up with some other way of amusing themselves and others, given that Love Island is still a few centuries from conception.
Mind you, “The Merry Conceited Humours of Bottom the Weaver” comes pretty close to the shenanigans that seem to be a central part of most reality TV. For it was jobbing actors who are believed to have come up with the idea of the droll, an early form of parody – in this case of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream – in which anything vaguely intellectual, serious, romantic or with a hint of high-brow was stripped out and in came bawdy ballads, bucket loads of double entendre and enough innuendo to fill a series of Carry On films. And here we are thinking that these comedic genres are all 20th century inventions.
The Owle Scheame’s A Midsummer Night’s Droll is the first modern reproduction of this, one of three Shakespeare drolls known to have been written and is an absolutely fascinating piece of theatre. Add to this the fact that this talented ensemble has created costumes and props that are believably of the era in which this droll first saw the light of day (probably around 1650) and you have a historical masterpiece that transported the rapt audience back in time to the days when theatre (or this genre anyway) was for the great unwashed.
The plot concentrates on The Mechanicals and the Titania (plus fairies), Puck, Oberon triangle which permits an in-depth examination of 17th century folklore as well as a bewildering amount of silliness, ad libs, improvisation (playing it extempore, as the Bard might have noted) and several flagons of over-acting. The hard-worked troupe of five switched costumes, persona and accents with lightening speed throughout what was an hour of whirlwind theatre – energetic, tightly choreographed for the small Gilded Balloon stage and convincingly delivered. And, in addition to those authentic costumes we had puppets, masques and a variety of other ingeniously constructed and deployed props together with songs ranging from the sing-a-long bawdy to the downright amusing.
Educational as well as being innovatively entertaining, this was a fascinating hour of theatre full of pace, energy, humour and some very fine acting. Highly recommended.