THE LEGEND OF KING ARTHUR
Royal Spa Centre, Leamington, Friday 27th November, 2015
Oddsocks Productions’ winter tour is their version of the Arthurian legend – and it’s a worthy addition to the many that have gone before. Also, it’s truly in the vein of their own inimitable style and so laughs are guaranteed – and plenty of them.
Elli Mackenzie’s script covers everything from Arthur’s conception to his marriage to Guinevere, taking in familiar plot points along the way: the sword in the stone, the lady in the lake, and so on. The dialogue is peppered with puns and gags, some of them corny, some of them clever. Director Andy Barrow brings it all to life with trademark silliness – even the props are hilarious.
There is a lot of narration but it is shared by all five cast members so it never slows things down. The play covers a lot of ground in its running time as highlight follows hard upon highlight (Arthur as a baby is almost too funny to watch). It’s the best laugh I’ve had in a long time.
Peter Hoggart is King Arthur, playing with swagger and charm. He is the handsome hero we can all admire, laugh with and, of course, laugh at. Lucy Varney demonstrates very clearly that pretty girls can be funny too, appearing as Arthur’s somewhat chavvy mother, Igraine, and later on as a plucky Guinevere who earns her own place among the knights of the Triangle Table. New to the company, Simon Spencer-Hyde is a real find, giving some lovely character work as Merlin, an Archbishop. Sir Winkalot and a coquettish Morgause. Oddsocks favourite Dom Gee-Burch returns with a range of roles: his Sir Shoutalot never gets old but his Lady of the Lake has to be seen to be believed. Writer Elli Mackenzie appears as the villainous Morgan Le Fey, her hair a towering storm cloud of black and green. Camp levels are running high but with this and her other parts: Sir Dubious and a dim-witted Saxon, Mackenzie consolidates her status in my view as the funniest woman in British theatre.
The playing is broad but the timing is tight – for the most part. Being only the second performance of the tour, there is the odd missed cue or dried line but the cast rally and style out any eventuality. It adds to the fun. In a way, you don’t want them to get too slick; it would take the edge off the knockabout style.
There is sword-fighting, jousting and plenty of running around. Quick changes, special effects, and some original songs – a change from the BritPop Shakespeare of recent summers. The songs have humour too but serve to change the pace, a chance for us to catch our breath, before we’re laughing out loud at the next gag.
It’s one of their strongest shows all-round, funnier than Spamalot, blending theatrical tradition with wit and comic invention. There are a few jokes for the grown-ups without being smutty and there are some well-placed satirical barbs and jibes – just don’t look for subtlety.
It’s fun for all the family and an excellent workout for your laughing muscles. I can’t wait to catch it again.