“Piss ye off” is one of the lines that best sums up the tone of the Pembroke Players’ robust new production, Tristram Shandy: Live at Scotland. Bringing to life the famously rambling 18th Century novel of the same name, this riotous adaption is best described as a cross between Bottom and Blackadder.
We meet Tristram in the present day, on a book tour promoting his autobiography. He’s joined by a jaded interviewer, Alice, who has the unenviable task of keeping the show to schedule. As they discuss his life an ensemble of actors re-enact the key moments, dressed in full cut-price 18th Century costume.
With the plot meandering from well before Tristram’s conception, it’s a race against time: will they even get as far as his birth by the end of the show? True to the original book there’s tangent after tangent, including the hilarious sub-plot of how Uncle Toby got injured at the battle of Namur and why he’s terrified of women.
It takes a while to get into the slapstick humour and filthy jokes, so I was initially sceptical that the Pembroke Players would be able to keep to the spirit of the book and still deliver a watchable play. I shouldn’t have worried: the cast proved to have a genuine knack for comedy, and threw themselves into the performance with enthusiasm despite a slightly reserved audience. From Walter Shandy’s gravelly northern tones to Elizabeth Shandy’s robust retorts, they were all very funny. For me though, it was Robert Eyers’ understated rabbit-in-headlights Uncle Toby who really stood out.
It’s a production that’s full of potential – the format just needs a bit of tweaking. The scenes recreating the autobiography were by far the funniest parts of the performance, with too much time being used up in the less amusing present day parts, particularly at the beginning, which jarred with the rest of the material.
Tristram Shandy is a spirited attempt to revive a difficult novel and by in large it succeeds. It’s an acquired taste but ideal for fans of the original. If you like your jokes bawdy and your men in cheap wigs, this may well be for you.