If you have ever wondered what Shakespeare’s beloved clown Bottom is up to these days, don’t wonder any longer – he is at the Lion & Unicorn Theatre carrying a performance of Pyramus and Thisbe all by himself with his humour and wit. Portrayed by Charlie Day of Fresh Life Theatre, Bottom lets us in on his life as an actor, singer, dancer, poet, equal opportunities shagger and whatever else you can imagine.
Day starts his one-man show offstage. The lights dim and an avid discussion erupts behind the stage. Although the much-acclaimed performance of Pyramus and Thisbe was scheduled for today, Bottom is the only actor that ends up entering the stage (Day dressed in a colourful shirt with bunny ears). With frustration in his voice, he has to explain that the other actors in the show have decided NOT to perform today. And so, it is just us and Bottom who is trying his best to fill the slot.
Day’s self-written and directed piece starts as a funny fringe-fit comedy about Willy Shakespeare’s most unappreciated clown. It includes at least ten proper jokes (according to the performer himself) and has most of us giggling in our seats. Not only does Bottom make fun of any and every actor, but he also drags his friend Willy Shakespeare through the dirt (respectfully of course). Funny anecdotes are followed by Bottom’s re-enactment of his affair with the Queen of the Fairies and how she ended up breaking his heart.
And this is the point at which things go sideways. Reminded of the heartbreak and the unrequited love, Bottom spirals into a sad, melancholic therapy session delivered in rhyme. Accompanied by his trusted “I am overcompensate ng” sign (yes, the “i” is missing), he seeks answer about his own depression and lack of emotional eloquence by delivering long speeches about his inner turmoil in Shakespeare’s writing style.
Even though the plot intentionally spirals down until it reaches Rock Bottom, it still feels like a mismatched emotional delivery. At times I find myself wondering whether it is just the pace of the delivery that is off, or whether the abrupt change in tone is too much on a Monday evening. As much as we fall in love with Bottom at the beginning of the piece, we fall out of it as he keeps going on about his frustrating longing to be noticed. Day crosses the line between performer and character one too many times and creates an awkward feeling of detachment and uncertainty among the audience.
Bottom is set up to be a funny and insightful one-man show exploring Shakespeare’s least loved character and has the potential to be a memorable experience but, as it stands, Day has not quite managed to find a tone that fits.
Rock Bottom is playing at the Lion and Unicorn Theatre until 23 June 2021. For more information and tickets visit The Lion and Unicorn Theatre’s website.