Rock Bottom brings us an insight into the character of Bottom, from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It’s a clever adaptation of Shakespeare which subverts our expectations from its upbeat start.
It’s written and performed by Charlie Day, a person who demonstrates a solid understanding of Shakespeare’s work, in this one-hour one-person show.
Bottom has arrived to perform Pyramus and Thisbe, but the rest of the cast have not turned up. He’s been dumped. This does not knock his confidence with him launching into a full on audience warm up. He can do the show alone. It’s him we’ve all come to see anyway.
It then preceeds in a style somewhere between a TV warm up artist meets The Office’s David Brent and shows his desperate need for people to love him personally and professionally.
The funny start shows Bottom has an over inflated sense of his own self worth with a hint of narcissism and a dash of male toxicity.
Through comedic banter, he flits between performing parts of the play single-handedly interspersed with talking about himself. In doing so he gives away who he really is. Perhaps he’s not that Teflon coated clown after all.
He completes the opening number to Pyramus and Thisbe alone, having to wait and count through until his moment to do his scant lines. It’s Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society stuff. As is an interpretive dance performed in earnest later in the show.
It soon becomes apparent that Bottom has had an affair with Titania, Queen of the Fairies. The fall out of this has broken his heart, but he’s not letting it show to start.
He performs a song on the ukulele dripping with sarcasm and insult before gathering himself and trying again although softened. It’s clear that behind the male bravado, he is deeply wounded by the fall out.
It’s the start of a tonal shift which is unexpected from its upbeat opening.
Through cleverly crafted monologue, Bottom descends into a full scale existential crisis, lamenting his life as well as making social comment on things that impact on our mental health. He targets, the audience, pleads with them. Those who will go away and review and comment about the show on social media. At this point, Day was so convincing, I wasn’t entirely sure if he was still acting or having a real crisis.
It’s a genuinely clever piece of work that peels back the layers of the character. The complexities of things that affect men’s mental health. Day shows how we put on a front to hide our own worries, vulnerabilities, flaws.
The writing in the style, borrowing and adapting Shakespeare’s own work to present something entirely new is superb.
A fade out on the lighting at the end would have been a softer finish. It may have been an artistic choice. But this is also fringe where budgets are usually run on a wish and a prayer and moments like this can be forgiven.
You don’t need to know Shakespeare to understand and appreciate this entertaining and intelligent piece of writing. In this respect, it’s an accessible piece of work that all current day audiences can relate to. Winner.
Rock Bottom runs at Burdall’s Yard, Bath on 20 May 2023: https://www.ticketsource.co.uk/whats-on/bath/burdalls-yard/rock-bottom/e-gelgpp
For more information about Fresh Life Theatre: https://www.freshlifetheatre.co.uk/
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