Hate to admit it, but we don't find the comedy of Shakespeare's clowns very funny. Because the language often doesn't work today and the references are obscure, the result is a series of meaningless puns.
Cue a group from the U of T and McMaster that's exploring the performance practices of the Queen's Men, a troupe favoured by Queen Elizabeth I and an influence on the young Shakespeare. Next October they'll stage a trio of works by the Queen's Men, and in preparation they organized workshop performances last week to see what made Elizabethan comedy funny.
Director Peter Cockett had an excellent idea to explore pre-Shakespearean shtick: invite two skilled clowns to play it. Mike Kennard (Mump and Smoot) and Andy Massingham (Geoffrey and Jeffrey) joined six other actors to try out the laughs in scenes from plays staged by the Queen's Men, and their physical work brought the material to life in hilarious fashion.
Kennard usually played the tricky, shape-changing Vice figure, while Massingham took on the role of the simple clown, gulled by the Vice. Sometimes, since the original English text was difficult to understand, Kennard relied on his Mump-like gibberish and clarified all the obscurities with his physicality and expressive face.
The laughs were a great payoff, but it was just as fascinating to watch the audience's reaction to the female roles. All played by men, as was the tradition, they were usually comical; Jason Gray 's whorish Meretrix was a standout. But in a variation on the King Lear story, Cordelia (here, Cordella, played by David Tompa ) became a moving figure whose wooing by the king of France (Gray) proved that powerful emotion lends reality to any casting, even if it's not so politically correct today.
Transmuted Lab Cab
The monthly Lab Cab , presented for the past five years by Olive Me producer Aviva Armour-Ostroff , is packing up its artistic Bunsen burners and theatrical petri dishes for a while. An evening of performances that allowed dozens of groups to try out their material, the event ends with Sunday's (January 22) cabaret.
Armour-Ostroff hosts the final event, with performances by the Rumoli Brothers , Chris Gibbs , Aaron Berg , Claire Jenkins , Christopher Sawchyn and others.
But Lab Cab's not dissolving completely. It'll be back next September as an annual two-day multidisciplinary festival, taking over all of Factory Theatre .
For info on Sunday's Lab Cab, see One-Nighters.