In 1649, the ‘Puritan Interregnum’ started in England. As a part of its rejection of lavish Catholicism, theatre performances were banned. The ‘drolls’ were then developed: illegal, secret comic performances that mingled scenes from Shakespeare with other entertainment.
The cast of this show has a difficult acting task: there are various stories going on at the same time. First, they are actors themselves putting on a show. At the same time, they are playing the ‘droll’ actors, who are putting shows on for the love of acting and to make money. They can’t emigrate to act abroad because they aren’t good enough actors. Then, simultaneously, the droll actors are playing the ‘mechanicals’ in ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, hilariously bad actors who want to be chosen to perform infront of the king and queen. The mechanicals are also later caught up in the story of their characters.
Most of the cast and their performances are too self-aware of these strands. The comedy is too obvious and there is little surprise. For the entire hour they try relentlessly to ham everything up to a hundred. Comedy, however, often works best when there are unexpected and varying shifts in emotion. Whether the shifts in emotion are evoked in the audience comes down to whether what they’re watching feels real and gets to something real in them. In this show, the portrayals, bar one, did not feel real. This is because the focus was on a desperate drive to get people to laugh, instead of a focus on what’s going on in the play. This meant that unlike some of the original drolls’ actors this cast had little natural charm to connect to.
Laura Romer-Ormiston is excellent. Her controlled vocal choices and physical movement are skilful, and bring a tangible sense of emotion to her portrayal. She weaves her role’s strands together seamlessly because her emotion lends it a timeless quality. This is also a reminder that people have been acting based on others’ plays for thousands of years. Romer-Ormiston made me feel thrilled about what was going on. It is sad that she seems to have the least time in the play’s focus, because her character was the only one that didn’t feel like a shell.
The costumes and props were lovely. They included huge coats made of hay and masks with inexplicable green and blue colouring. They were absolutely of their time, and did not detract from the actions of the characters. The bloodstained cloth was an especially funny addition, and was waved around the entire theatre by Nick Bottom, one of the droll actors. The props were used in the scenes well.
There were funny moments in this show, and I did laugh at points. The history of the drolls and the connections between people acting through history was fascinating. However, the drolls had their own charm, and were funny and drew people in. In this show, I hardly laughed and I was almost falling asleep by the end of it. I was relieved when it was over. I would be interested in finding out what this show would be like if the cast stopped trying too much.
A Midsummer Night’s DROLL runs till August 26 – buy tickets here.