Philotus is Scotlands oldest surviving comedy written in Scots and published in 1603. A pre-Shakespearean farce, it follows the attempts of an 80 year old man to marry a 14 year old girl. This is the first time the play has been performed at the Fringe, indeed it has rarely been seen since the time of James VI.
Philotus is a sleazy, rich old man who wants to marry the beautiful and very young Emilie. Emilie however has other ideas. She is in love with Flavious who spouts sweet poetry and really likes her paps. The fun and confusion begins when Emilie dresses as a boy in order to escape the old mans attentions. Mistaken identity, slapstick routines and an ultimately happy ending follow.
Most of the joy in seeing this play comes from its historical significance. Written before the reformation by an unknown author, it gives us a flavour of what was acceptable in comedy at that time. Its blatantly sexual themes and vulgar language probably did for it after the reformation and throughout the Victorian era. Apparently an 18th century English theatre historian described the play as The most offensive drama ever produced and sufficient proof of the barbarous state in which Scotland remained till civilised by its intercourse with England. Well the pendulum has certainly swung back. 2008 audiences should not expect to be offended at all.
The performances are a somewhat mixed bag but Benjamin Dahlbeck is terrifically funny as Philerno and makes the audience laugh with his comic timing and facial expressions. It is harder to believe in the fresh-faced David Nolan as the 80-year-old Philotus. Some of the actors struggled with the Scots language but dont be put off, as there are enough English words and Viking expletives to make it understood.
Sarah Carpenter should be congratulated for reviving this 400-year-old play.