Drolls were miniature plays, almost sketches, performed for entertainment in local pubs in 16th- and 17th-Century England. At a time when theatre was essentially outlawed, such performances apparently often ended with the cast being dragged off to jail. Owle Schreame Theatre present two such pieces, featuring a cast of five.
The stage setting is unusual: in the round, with the audience sat on all four sides and the cast performing in the middle. It’s a clever choice, creating the convincing illusion of a casual, communal area. The cast do a good job of appearing extremely unprofessional – a motley crowd of entertainers, with singers and musicians picked up along the way. The humour is coarse and raucous, and both plots are similarly plebeian, the kind where wives cuckold husbands and elope with barbers.
Interspersed with the ukulele, and punctuated by some nice songs and dance, the act was very entertaining. I appreciated the introductory bits, where the set-up was explained so we knew what we were in for; and it was also interesting to learn how comedy can be traced right back to patterns formed four centuries ago.
But, while the concept demands a measure of unprofessionalism, at times I felt it went too far. One major character in both drolls simply wasn’t up to standard, and her continual corpsing gave the impression that she just wasn’t taking the performance seriously at all. It was also distracting to have the off-stage cast members moving and changing costume among the audience. Presumably this is faithful to the original “droll” experience but, after all, it’s also important that we get to enjoy the show.
Even so, there are glimpses of a compelling and skilful performance here. Be prepared to be shocked and amused at the same time – both by the exaggerated sex scenes and the terrible comedy. This wasn’t the greatest show I saw this Fringe, but I will be looking out for Owle Schreame as they develop their idea further; their theatre is based on a very different premise, and brings history to life in a light-hearted way.