Award-winning theatre company Owle Schreame performs a series of very droll ‘drolls’: short, illegal comedies from the 17th century. There are around 30 texts they hope to get through over the course of the festival, and they are the first group to perform some of these rare nuggets of theatrical history in almost 400 years.
They were truly fringe pieces of theatre hundreds of years ago, and it seems fitting now that these drolls feel utterly at home at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
The droll(s) performed vary every night, but the one that I saw, The Humour Of John Swabber, is the raucous and spirited tale of a seaman and his quarrels with a barber. With the song Cigarettes And Whisky, the performers immersed the audience in a kind of drunken tavern atmosphere from the moment they walked in, a pre-state that blended seamlessly into the actual performance of the droll. In fact, to distinguish pre-state and play does the show a disservice; everything about Owle Schreame’s production rejects theatrical formality. Chatty, musical, and theatrically self-aware, the entire show is driven by improvisation that could rival an improv troupe. The actors feed off the audience, dispensing with dramatic boundaries, and the audience’s engagement with this playful informality is richly rewarded by our inclusion in DROLL’s mad world.
Forgotten lines and actors restarting scenes, having to clear up onstage mid-performance to avoid being penalty-charged by the venue, and one of the actors acknowledging his mum in the audience are made moments of hilarity. DROLL’s rough-around-the-edges style is its charm. The actors fully embrace a no-holds-barred approach to performance, unafraid to get their hands (and faces!) dirty. Artistic Director Brice Stratford’s commitment to exaggerated voices and movement, in the titular role, breathes vigorous life into what have lain for centuries as essentially old and dead texts. Now it seems they were only dormant. The company’s passion for reviving what are actually fascinating pieces of dramatic history, as well as being silly and coarse, ensures these short play pack a mighty punch.
They were truly fringe pieces of theatre hundreds of years ago, and it seems fitting now that these drolls feel utterly at home at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Although the circumstances of their performance are less perilous now, in 2017, ‘It’s Fringe, anything could happen!’