The Bubonic Play
Show type: Edinburgh Fringe 2005
A Love Story With Scabs.
Set in a time of feudal lords, coquettish wenches and wandering minstrels with pudding-basin haircuts, Bubonic Plague is, historically at least, firmly in Monty Python And The Holy Grail territory.
But stylistically, it’s in that fast-expanding sub-genre of Edinburgh shows, the overblown spoof: mocking its own cheap production values and reveling in the deadpan bad acting as much as getting laughs from what’s written on the page.
It’s a brand of humour that director Cal McCrystal has made his own with previous productions from Spymonkey, Peepolykus and Population:3 – and with this troupe, Piggy Nero, he’s found another talented trio to share his comedy outlook.
Like Les Dawson’s piano playing, slightly bad acting takes a lot of skill to pull off successfully, and Mat Baynton, Jamie Glassman and Clare Thomson get their emphasis, timing and emotions just perfectly wrong; wringing the most funny they can from a sprightly script. They can sing a fair bit, too.
The jolly writing is, at times, a joy, sprinkled with wonderful touches - a neat line here, an original idea there, a slow-burning callback – that provide the show with a good half-dozen moments of genuine hilarity, played out with verve by all three of the actors.
Their zest to throw themselves wholeheartedly into the nonsense is appealing. And Thomson, especially, often seems to teeter on the precipice of corpsing, her attempts to stifle the instinct proving funny in itself.
They mock, of course, the conventions of the over-serious costume-drama genre they’re parodying. At times it’s the Spinal Tap of medieval folk madrigals, even if the targets are easy – and there is only so much medieval folk a man can take.
The plot is flypaper-thin; a simple love triangle between our three simple stereotypes only slightly complicated by their falling victim to the pestilence that ravages the nation. Will they find salvation in Leaminton Spa?
That simplicity is something of a downfall – this story could be told, with all of its best jokes – in little over half the time, rather than being diluted to fill the obligatory Edinburgh hour.
But the best moments are priceless, and the good nature of the joshing is – if you’ll excuse the obvious plague-related metaphor – infectious.