Great British Mysteries: 1599? is one of those shows that seems tailor-made for the Edinburgh Fringe. It’s deceptively simple but highly effective. Two actors in slightly dodgy Tudor costumes? Check! An absurdly convoluted story about a search for a mysterious witch? Check! And a collection of truly terrible jokes delivered with such verve and aplomb that they somehow transcend their humble origins to become laugh-out-loud funny? Double check! Thanks to the talents of Will Close and Rose Robinson, who (don’t take this the wrong way, you two) have expressive faces that were just made for comedy, this is probably one of the most enjoyable hours you’ll spend on this year’s Fringe.
Thomas Tyrell and Olive Bacon encounter each other on the streets of London in er… well, 1599 (obviously) and, recognising that they have many things in common, decide to embark upon careers as detectives. Thomas is extremely fond of recounting his years as a sailor alongside Sir Walter Raleigh, while Olive is a mistress of disguise, who spends much of her time trying to teach the (decidedly thick) Thomas how to deliver a punchline. There are artfully placed running gags about bear baiting and the six wives of Henry the Eighth, while a large screen behind the duo offers us a succession of amusing images to help propel the story along. Oh yes, there’s also a mysterious priest who delivers his sermons in the form of contemporary song lyrics, a pig who seems to be permanently fertile, and the added delight of watching Thomas and Olive dance the occasional fleet-footed gavotte. What’s not to like?
Students of history will learn precisely nothing from this production, but those who like to chortle, snigger and even let out the occasional hoot of hilarity will certainly enjoy their visit to the year 1599.