MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING
Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Tuesday 21st June, 2016
The remarkable Oddsocks Productions brings its summer outdoors show indoors, to the Belgrade’s B2 space – a wise move given the vagaries of the weather, although I have fond memories of a rain-lashed production of The Tempest at the mac many years ago, my first encounter with this hilarious company and the geniuses Andy Barrow and Elli Mackenzie. I’ve been a devotee ever since and I’m delighted to have the chance to see this production again. Last year, it toured with Twelfth Night; this year its stablemate is a steampunk version of Macbeth (Watch this space for a review next month!)
Director and adaptor Andy Barrow reprises his Leonato, a proud father and dad-dancer. It’s difficult to talk about the show without spoiling the surprises but I will say he is correct in his assertion that he has all the best moves. The performance shows off Barrow’s skills at physical comedy; the production as a whole shows off his theatrical chutzpah and nous. Riding tandem with Shakespeare, the hallmarks of an Oddsocks show: slapstick, silly wigs, cartoonish props, musicianship, clowning skills, somehow get the story told while preserving the integrity of the script. It’s a remarkable feat of ingenuity – we’re laughing along throughout but you know it’s working, you know Barrow has us in the palm of his hands in the church scene, when the feelings between Beatrice and Benedick are at last given voice. You can hear a pin drop; Barrow lets Shakespeare take the driving seat for this perfectly poignant moment. We are touched, we are thrilled, and all this time we thought we’d been sitting back and having a laugh. Wonderful.
Of course, kudos is due to Rebecca Little and Joseph Maudsley, the Beatrice and Benedick who pull off this electricity. Little is not short on presence; her Beatrice is a mass of scornful energy. Maudsley’s Benedick is endlessly appealing. The playing is broad, as befits an outdoor show, but Maudsley imbues his performance with truth and credibility, even during the knockabout stuff.
Both actors reappear in other roles. Little’s Dogberry is a neighbourhood watch busybody with a penchant for torture; Maudsley gives us a perfectly observed drunkard in his Borachio, working the audience and larger-than-life but still utterly credible.
Similarly, Ben Locke’s dashing Claudio brings out the soldier and the lover among all the silliness. Anna Westlake’s Hero is charming, in contrast to her Verges of the watch. All the actors play instruments too – you have to be versatile in an Oddsocks show. Gavin Harrison’s Don John, villain of the piece, is perfect pantomime; his rendition of Radiohead’s Creep is just sublime. But that’s the thing about Andy Barrow: all the ideas, from song choices to silly wigs, are all a propos and in context. The ideas support and serve Shakespeare, all to give us one of the most entertaining evenings you can spend at a play.