What happened to theatre when it was outlawed during the English Civil War? While many are made to believe that theatre came to an end when the playhouses were closed, the Owle Schreame aims to correct this common misconception. In reality, acting went underground, in ridiculous and abbreviated versions of the official theatre that came before. In this performance of one such ‘droll’, a forgotten play of the Puritan Interregnum, the Owle Schreame perform a lewd and whimsical farce that doesn’t let down for a second.
DROLL is 50 minutes of of goofy vulgar humour. Artistic director Brice Stratford lectures the audience on the historical background of drolls before transforming into John Swabber, the idiotic and cuckolded antihero of the play. First appearing half-dressed and brandishing handfuls of weapons to challenge the barber (James Carney) who has been sleeping with his wife, Swabber is quickly revealed to be cowardly and hot-headed, yet somehow always amusingly endearing. As the rest of the cast craft ludicrous jokes at his expense, his loud, crass, and often jovial manner still stirs up some sympathy.
The physical humour that relies little on dialogue and more on expressions and body language is hilarious, as each actor’s particular style comes across boldly. Emma Woolf, playing Swabber’s wife, portrays the overly sexualised temptress perfectly with her constant erratic movements. Carney, by constantly crouching and lurking in the back of scenes, acts as the antithesis of Stratford’s Swabber, who fills every scene by walking with his hips and stomach out as if trying to occupy as much space – and attention – as possible. While the spoken lines do add to the humour, the show is mostly carried by the self-assured physicality of these actors.
The sparse set and intentionally amateurish music conjure up a sense of unprofessionalism intended to ground the drolls in their natural atmosphere, yet does not detract at all from the quality of the performance. Carney’s ukulele-playing and coarse, Shane McGowan-esque singing open and close the play with rowdy and boozy songs. These ditties conjure up images of impromptu sing-alongs in a pub while still being well-performed and musically enjoyable. The use of a little sign that says ‘door’ instead of getting an actual prop to act as a door also contributed to the spur-of-the-moment atmosphere, without detracting from the ability to understand the scenes. The tone set by the Owle Schreame in this performance is exactly right, as they consistently undermine the sophistication of the play while also performing exceptionally well, creating a contrast that makes them seem even more talented as actors by pulling off such a ridiculous play with ease.
DROLL is an exceptionally funny performance which strikes the perfect note between farce and historical appreciation. While the obviously lowbrow humour of the show might seem to others as of lesser quality than more serious shows of the Fringe, it is as enjoyable and well-crafted as any show to be seen this year.
theSpace @ Mile (Venue 39)
Until 26th August
Photo credit: the Owle Schreame