By Danielle Farrow
In ‘Droll’, the Owle Schreame theatre company presents three brief entertainments drawn from the 16th & 17th centuries: play sketches that are bawdy and fun, and here given some historical introduction. Drolls were performed, generally illegally, during the England’s Commonwealth interregnum era (1649-1660), when Puritan values led to the banning of plays there. Certainly, the content of these pieces – John Swabber (where a sailor is tricked by his wife and her lover), Simpleton the Smith (where a smith is tricked by his wife and her lovers) and Simpkin (a jig where a husband is tricked by his wife and her lovers) – are likely to offend certain sensibilities, with their robust depictions of adultery, and drolls have been described as “contrived to please the vulgar and appeal to the least refined”.
Performed by a cast of five, with great energy, snatches of ribald song, and a few (often comedic) props – including, on this occasion, some very suspect milk – this is fine entertainment of a farcical nature, where the audience is well served and knowingly included (but without that oft-dreaded participation). The drolls contain some wit as well as silliness, elements of Chaucerian and Decameron tales of sexual misbehaviour and trickery, and plenty of laughs. Introduced as having had little rehearsal, and mostly being drunken foolery, there are not many signs of this, though one actor was stumbling somewhat over lines and another not always clear when speaking at speed (though hoarseness there sounded more like a cold than anything else). A little more depth occasionally may actually have added to the humour – as was indeed exhibited by one of the cast, who sang and played well also – but overall the brash, over-the-top performances serve the material very well.
The somewhat anarchic feel of drolls is perhaps mirrored in the timing, starting late and so ending 10 minutes behind advertised time – not to be recommended during the Fringe – but there was impressive speed (and joy) in the final five-minute jig of Simpkin, dashed through with verve and only a slight loss of clarity (as mentioned above).
‘Droll’ is a very enjoyable show, less rough in performance than its set up suggests, and with more variety than its pieces’ plots promise, due to clever direction and the sustained attack and skill of its players. This is simple, but effective, staging and the relaxed performance style is great fun – very alive, often with improvisation – for performers and audience alike. Highly entertaining!
Until 27th August, not 21; until 25th, 18:55 (19:50); 26th & 27th, 17:40 (18:35) theSpace @ Jury’s Inn (Venue 260)