MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING
mac, Birmingham, Sunday 19th July, 2015
Oddsocks is back (are back?) with another madcap double bill of Shakespearean comedy. The one I catch is my favourite of all of Will’s work (they’re also doing Twelfth Night) and I can’t wait to see what director Andy Barrow has done with and to it. With only a cast of six, there are some inevitable changes and truncations but the bulk of the text survives, along with the drama; Barrow takes away but he also gives – the action is augmented by the clever interpolation of pop songs. Amazingly, it all works like a dream.
Barrow heads the cast – I’d never seen a Much Ado in which Leonato is the star turn, but here we go. Unflinchingly silly, Leonato sports a Llewellyn-Bowen wig and a lounge lizard suit. He rips off his trousers to dance along to Single Ladies, and his shirt for a wrestling bout in order to settle his grievance with Claudio. As a performer, Barrow is a mass of physical energy; as a director, he is unerringly clever. It feels as though he is collaboration with Shakespeare.
Regular Oddsockian Kevin Kemp is a cheeky and adorable Benedick, who gets us on his side from the get-go. Kemp also doubles as henchman Borachio – a broader characterisation but nonetheless entertaining. Rebecca Little’s Beatrice is puckish and feisty. The pair handle the ‘merry war’ of wit with clarity and apparent ease – Andy Barrow lets Shakespeare’s best lines out untrammelled. Little is also Dogberry, leader of a neighbourhood watch whose interrogation techniques contravene several laws, including those of biology and physics. While in general the playing is broad, when it comes to the ‘low’ comedy, it gets broader still. Silliness abounds. It’s ridiculous but in keeping with the overall approach.
And then we come to the sublime. In the wedding scene, it falls to Peter Hoggart to turn the mood from comedy to drama as his dashing and handsome Claudio renounces his fiancée at the altar. It’s a powerful moment and you feel the gear change. And then he breaks into a rousing rendition of Tainted Love and we’re back in silly mode again. When Benedick and Beatrice admit their love for each other, you can hear a pin drop. Barrow lets Shakespeare do the work here and it’s electrifying. When Benedick challenges Claudio, we know he means it. Even in this cartoon-world of silly wigs and pop music, there can be genuine tension. Marvellous!
Lucy Varney is a spirited Hero who throws herself into the physical humour – and all the cast are adept at adlibbing. Gavin Harrison delights as villain Don John, a creep and a weirdo indeed. His Don Pedro is more understated (if anything in this production is understated) and allows for the dramatic tension of the later scenes to play. Shakespeare balances humour and emotion; Barrow does the same but cranks it up to eleven.
Oddsocks deliver the goods again. An accessible, highly entertaining evening enjoyed by all. I cannot praise or recommend them enough.