Derby Theatre, Derby, Monday 11th June 2012
The inimitable Oddsocks Productions turn their attention to Shakespeare’s political thriller for this year’s summer tour. I was fortunate enough to see it in a rare indoors appearance – although getting wet through and a soggy picnic at an Oddsocks show is how I know which season it is.
The staples of every Oddsocks performance are all there, so audience expectations (they have built up a loyal band of fans) are met and exceeded. The silly wigs, props and puppets are out in force – two of the conspirators turn in rather wooden performances! The audience is cast in the role of revolting Plebs – hardly a stretch, in my case.
Director Andy Barrow leads his energetic cast, as Brutus, a bit like a lost Mitchell brother in a dress. The Roman tunics make the cartwheels and capers all the more risky. As usual, the five-strong company double and treble up on characters. Lawrence Kemp’s Cassius is earnest and serious, despite the wrangles with his breastplate and toga. James Percy’s Caesar is a radical interpretation – the bathroom scene is a highlight of this very funny production. Joseph Maudsley’s Mark Antony conveys the power of Shakespeare’s rhetoric in his famous eulogy, (All together now: Friends, Romans, Countrymen…) and still makes it funny – but this is what Oddsocks does. Much fun is had with Shakespeare but it is never at the Bard’s expense. Plot and text are the springboard for a particular brand of hilarity and this one is up there with their best.
The only female member of the troupe, Kathryn Levell is put to work as Calpurnia, Casca, 2nd Citizen, and the mispronounced Clitus (her other role is a Portia) so she gets the bulk of the dressing-up fun. As ever, the ensemble outweighs the efforts of any single actor and you get a strong sense that this is a group of people enjoying what they do.
Their trademark pageant wagon has never looked better with its backdrop of classical columns and Roman statuary, and is as versatile as ever. There is a massage scene that will make your eyes water and a ‘tortoise’ of Roman legionaries that will make you gasp. The whole thing is infused with fun and a theatrical savvy that hints at a sophistication underlying the groan-inducing jokes and knockabout comedy. I will certainly be meeting up with the tour again later in the run and risk hypothermia in some sodden corner of England and I urge you to do the same.
It’s what the summer is for.
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