Droll, VAULT Festival

img_0177By guest critic Jo Trainor

“Let’s all dance ‘round the shitty faced baby.”

Drolls (director Brice Stratford explains) were short, raucous, illegal plays from the 17th Century. Oliver Cromwell and the Puritan interregnum banned theatre from 1642, but drolls were performed in pubs and alley ways to keep theatrical traditions going. Stratford says no one has put on a droll for 400 years, and boy, have companies been missing a trick because these sketches provide a hilarious evening of entertainment. There’s sex, there’s adultery, and you’re given a shot of whisky when you come in the door.

Owle Schreame show us three short stories in their one hour time slot, but the nature of the droll is that timings are more of a rough guide. There’s ad-libbing, plenty of corpsing and working around the audiences’ constant laughter also eats into performance time. This meant that their final jig, which although was only supposed to be five minutes, was hurtled through at breakneck speed and aside from a lover rolling under people’s feet, the story was somewhat lost. Finishing with a rendition of The Wild Rover certainly makes up for it, however.

It’s the first play telling the tale of the humiliation of the cuckolded sailor John Swabber that brings the house down. A gallon of milk, a baby with a beard and the word TWAT in face paint – there’s barely time to pause for breath between laughs. Stratford takes the lead role of Swabber in this, and although I have never been so concerned about the possibility of someone’s trousers falling down at any minute, he steals the show. Stratford is larger than life as he carries an arm full of weapons, ranging from kitchen tongs to a walking stick, to his love rival’s house. This soon turns into nursing him at his home. Everything becomes more farcical and over the top as the play goes along, and it’s just a pleasure to watch. What was particularly lovely was that the room was filled with the cast’s friends and so there was plenty breaking of the fourth wall and the atmosphere was perfect for an evening of drolls.

Owle Schreame are only doing one other performance of DROLL at the VAULT festival, and they’ve already taken it to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Let’s hope they produce another show asap.

Droll runs through 19 February.

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