Mandrake

The Mandrake charts familiar territory for a Renaissance city comedy – cuckoldry, trickery, and professional stereotypes – but as might be expected from a play by Machiavelli, the Italian political theorist now sadly synonymous with spin doctors in the Malcolm Tucker mould, these particular schemers are more rotten than most. In this Anglicised translation by Civil War Royalist author James Compton, London is Sin City and everyone is corrupt or corruptible. The mandrake of the title is the main ingredient of a 'potion' concocted by Leaveland, a young gallant posing as a doctor of the real, medical kind (and spouting, like Moliere's medics, an infinite stream of Latin jargon), in the service of his plot to – well, service – the pretty, pious wife of the ludicrous Mr Soonrot.The actor playing Soonrot is the jewel in the play's crown, preventing his character lapsing into the stock petty-tyrant with his blustering, spluttering speech and expressive fish-eyed facial agility. His delusions of grandeur are revealed as hollow from the moment when, asked about his youthful travelling, he sonorously announces 'I have been... to Windsor!' as if the Berkshire tourist-trap were as far as Timbuktu. He also reveals himself as spectacularly keen to allow his own wife to be used as a sexual pawn in this institutionally misogynist society, pimping her to a disguised Leaveland to bring out the venomous side-effects of the fraudulent potion to clear the way for himself to produce an heir.When it appears, the potion is a suggestively thick, milky concoction. Sexual impropriety is never far from the surface, justified by the parson Mr Wrenchtext's devious maxim: 'it is the will that sins, not the body.' A later pronouncement that two sermons will suffice to 'wipe off' the great evil of watching a play gets a laugh of knowing recognition from the complicit audience. Mistress Soonrot herself is perhaps the key to this play's worldview, moving from religious repression to breathless sexual awakening in the course of an evening, and she makes a powerful impression in her few short scenes, unleashing the perhaps inevitably fetishised potential of her buttoned-up secretarial wear.Other performers are a little overshadowed by this dynamic duo. Given the smallness of the studio space, some moments suffered from aimless wandering and windmilling arms, and some aspects of the plot, particularly for Wrenchtext, were completely discarded. There are some great one-liners, jaunty zither music, and a coffee percolator filled with urine - probably not a feature of any other Edinburgh show. Foul Papers' revival of a neglected text may not make for a 'forgotten classic', but in making dated language and a formulaic theatrical style sing and swing with modern vigour, in an hour and twenty minutes they do something else that for a busy Fringe audience is probably just as worthwhile.

Reviews by Richard O'Brien

The Blurb

A young man desperate to bed an irresistible young married woman plots to trick her ageing husband into allowing it. Foul Papers presents the world premiere of this 350-year-old adaptation of Machiavelli's great satire, 'La Mandragola'.