Owle Schreame’s Droll is an engaging piece of late night lunacy performed for the “Merriment and Delight and Wise Men and the Ignorant”.
The performance draws upon a little-known body of work surviving from a time when Oliver Cromwell’s puritan regime closed the playhouses and made acting illegal, before going on to cancel Christmas. Theatre went underground, taking the form of fast-moving pop-up performances of “drolls” – farcical, rough-and-ready playlets delivered and enjoyed with wild abandon. Their very existence was subversive and anti-establishment.
In this particular droll, there are characters and situations we now recognise as timeless – the pompous coward, his shrewish wife, her secret lover. There are rapid entrances and exits, much banging of doors and ludicrous attempts at disguise and concealment.
Brice Stratford steals the show as the vainglorious cuckold John Swabber, a part he carries off with the broad swagger of a Sir Toby Belch in Twelfth Night, but James Carney plays the wild-eyed barber with great relish and Emma Woolf sweeps majestically up and down the stage, her broomstick almost visible.
If at times the performance verges on the chaotic, with fluffed lines and missed cues, these flaws are embraced by performers and audience alike as homage to the spirit of the original. Still, from time to time the actors are inclined to laugh a little too much at their own drollery.
The musical numbers which top and tail the piece are delivered with great gusto, though a couple of comic songs written closer to the period might have been more fitting.
In a couple of scholarly asides before the chaos begins and after it is done, Brice Stratford quietly hails the importance of the humble droll as a major influence on British comedy from Monty Python to Fawlty Towers.
Barely a dozen drolls survive in written form; most were simply passed on orally. It is the ambition of the company to perform as many of them as possible, starting from next week.
Go along and join in the fun, but have a couple of drinks first.
Until August 26, not 13, 20, 22:05, Age 16+
7-12 theSpace on North Bridge
14-19 theSpace @ Surgeons Hall
21-26 theSpace on the Mile