The Vaults, London
The Owle Schreame’s A Midsummer Night’s DROLL begins with a bit of a lecture, informing us how theatre survived during the Puritans’ purge, by going underground. Rough and ready adaptations of plays, called drolls, were performed guerilla-style – anticipating today’s pop-up theatre festivals…?! – wherever there was a Will and a way.
And once the intro is out of the way, we dive headlong into this raucous version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, claimed as the oldest surviving adaptation of a Shakespeare play. With its focus almost entirely on the Rude Mechanicals, it is huge amounts of fun, full of songs, silliness and a real commitment to the value of crowd-pleasing entertainment.
Where else would you find Oberon looking and acting like a demonic Womble, vegetable puppets, singalongs to ‘The Wild Rover’ and more, Mustardseed as a sneezing Frenchman, death by broom, even the prototype for Doctor Who’s Lady Cassandra… There’s so much wit and inventiveness and downright oddness at times that you barely notice the quartet of lovers have been entirely excised.
But for all the laugh-out-loud humour that is suffused throughout the production, directed by Brice Stratford who makes for a surprisingly charming Bottom, there’s also something deeper here too. The connection and interplay with the audience is a powerful tool which is employed so well here.
And the climactic performance of Pyramus and Thisbe is observed – and commented upon – by the Athenian court. As further elucidated in Stratford’s closing comments, this offers striking commentary on the notion of ‘proper’ Shakespeare, an issue that’s as pertinent now as it was then as purists insist on an authenticity that is constructed as the play itself. Heaps of fun.