Tag Archives: Arena Theatre Wolverhampton

Just Four Fun

THE IMPROLECTUALS

Arena Theatre, Wolverhampton, Thursday 4th October, 2018

 

Any improv show is reliant on good suggestions from the audience.  Tonight, our quartet of performers is faced with plenty of beans and chips related ideas – and they make a meal of it.  Yes, I’m at another improv gig and this time it’s The Improlectuals.  Hosting duties are shared by Richard Baldwin and Robert Lane, as they introduce the games, field audience suggestions, and stage-manage the action.

Baldwin is a good-allrounder, reaching particular heights of hilarity in a game which involves him divining from our reaction the action we have chosen for him to perform.  His contortions eventually lead him to peeling potatoes in a supermarket trolley, and we couldn’t be happier.

Lane, another good-allrounder, distinguishes himself with his guitar playing, accompanying impromptu musical numbers, sometimes supporting, sometimes steering the spontaneous songsters.

Also performing this time are Matthew Dibbens and Nathan Blyth, a versatile pair.  In fact, all four actors prove their talent, versatility and quick-wittedness but Blyth does all that while being rather good-looking, which is hardly fair.

Some of the games are familiar to those of us who recall TV’s Whose Line Is It Anyway? and others bring back memories of my drama teaching days.  Some have better legs than others, some take off straight away, and some meander a bit, but on the whole, the hit rate is pretty high.  We do a great deal of laughing out loud.  A game in which the actors switch accents at the honk of a horn is an absolute hoot.  A Chinese-whispers type game, done with action rather than words, works a treat, but for me the best games involve the creation of songs on the spot.

The magic of improv brings its own brand of tension, but when it clicks, as it does countless times tonight, it is truly marvellous to behold.

I would perhaps alter the running order a little, so the show has a stronger opening game, saving the Two-Headed Emails for later on, when we have warmed to the performers – which doesn’t take long at all!

A very funny and entertaining evening with no shortage of creative energy.  The Improlectuals deserve larger audiences than the select group that mustered to see them tonight.

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Booty Calls

TREASURE ISLAND

Arena Theatre, Wolverhampton, Tuesday 19th November, 2013

Oddsocks’s winter production this year set sail in Wolverhampton and while some first night ‘issues’ are to be expected and indeed take place, they in no way detract from the enjoyment of this superbly hilarious piece.  But what does set it apart from other shows by this remarkable company is that adapter/director/genius Andy Barrow lets the adventure of the original story have room to breathe.  Yes, all the hallmarks of Oddsocks comedy are there but there is also drama and tension.  The show shifts gear and then shifts again, with jokes and ‘business’ woven into the action.  Characterisations that begin as broad and cartoony become more rounded.  It’s very well handled indeed.

We begin at the Admiral Benbow inn where a rather earnest Jim (Gemma Aston) dreams of a more exciting life.  He soon finds himself embroiled with pirates and a hunt for hidden treasure.  Aston is the sober centre of the piece, the straight man to the lunacy that surrounds her – this is not to say she isn’t also very funny.  She is, in fact, a barrel of laughs.

Andy Barrow is a scream as Jim’s mother, prone to fainting and hungry for male attention.  This is the dame to Aston’s principal boy, and while the show includes some overtly pantomime features, it soon sets a course for the more dramatic.

Andrew McGilligan impresses and delights with his physical skills and quick wit.  His Squire Trelawney is a hoot.  Joseph Maudsley is wonderful as Blind Pew and Doctor Livesey, while Dom Gee-Burch demonstrates his range of comic characters as Captain Smollett, Billy Bones, Ben Gunn and most other people.  This trio have become Oddsocks regulars, Andy Barrow’s own set of three stooges.  They are very, very funny men.

The set is ingenious and Sarah Oxley’s costumes are beautiful.  Barrow directs some top drawer comic action, aided by Amed Hashimi’s fight choreography.  An early knife fight is absolutely superb.  A later sword fight is organised chaos.  The second act opens with a danse macabre to tickle your funny bones.  There is a Stomp tribute and Cap’n Flint has to be seen to be believed.

In this chest, brimming with treasure, there are only a couple of dud coins.  The ambient sound effects need to be turned down in some scenes.  Ben Gunn is crying out for a comedy beard.

This is perhaps Oddsocks’s most rounded production to date.  I hope to board it again later in its nationwide tour.

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It’s the time of year to get out your Long Johns.


Back in the Hood

THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD
Arena Theatre, Wolverhampton, Wednesday 21st November, 2012

Oddsocks Productions’ winter show this year is a new version of the outlaw legend, a story familiar from countless retellings, both played straight and in spoofs. All the familiar elements are here: the evil Sheriff, the Merry Men, Maid Marian, the archery contest… but given the Oddsocks treatment. The broad humour, wordplay, innuendo are all here with a lavish coating of slapstick and physical comedy. There is music of a folk nature (composed by Lucy Ward) and of course, a couple of puppets put in an appearance.

This was the first ever performance and at times this was more obvious than others. The set is ingenious, intricate and versatile but brings with it certain drawbacks, making some of the transitions less than slick. In time, these will speed up and, when the script is embedded and the quick changes better organised, the show will run like clockwork – although, to be perfectly honest, the delays, the missed cues and the wobbly walls add to the fun. Oddsocks can get away with it; their enthusiastic brand of knockabout silliness allows for the wheels to come off from time to time.

The cast of five play multiple roles, forming a likeable ensemble working their (odd) socks off to keep the balloon aloft. Kevin Kemp is the titular hero. This Robin is not an aristocrat gone wild but a man of the people. His nobility is of the down-to-earth, working man variety. Kemp is also hilarious as long-serving dungeon occupant Obadiah, complete with stretched limbs and silly beard. Maid Marian is played by Oddsocks newcomer, Louisa Farrant, a classy beauty not shy of plain-speaking and who plays a mean flute. Joseph Maudsley stalks around on stilts as a not-so Little John, and also has a bash at a Bishop. Andrew McGillan is Friar Tuck and Will Scarlet, throwing himself around. They are all very, very funny so I won’t pick a favourite.

This hard-working, energetic and merry band is led by writer/director Andy Barrow as the evil Sheriff and Much the Miller’s Son in a ratty mullet. Barrow hams it up with relish and the script shows his mastery of humour in all its forms. This is good old British comedy, stemming from the likes of The Goons and Round the Horne but there are also hints of the Three Stooges in the slapstick and Abbot & Costello in the double talk. The man knows how to make you laugh.

This is Oddsocks’s most physical show to date. There is plenty of sword play and stage combat (choreographed by Amed Hashimi) that doesn’t repeat a gag, and there is a lot of coming and going to serve the contrivances of the story. I was struck by how political the show is. Robin Hood is a political figure, always has been, but here, with bang up-to-date topical jokes and obvious parallels to the rich who are getting rich off the backs of the poor, the play calls us to action. We all have to be Robin Hood if we are to overcome the exploitation we face. There is a lot about public officials serving the law rather than being above it. This colourful production (wonderful costumes by Mike Lees) shows us the issue can be as simple as black and white, right and wrong.

I am certain as the tour carries on, the organisation will improve and the performances will be slicker, and I really liked the darker moments when it all goes dramatic. Apart from one: the Sheriff’s first scene. He goes straight into his dramatic exposition and we sit there waiting for the chance to boo him as we have been warmed up to do in the prologue. An insult or even just a sneer to the audience as he walks on would allow us the opportunity. As it was, our boos were a long time coming, because we were focussed on the storytelling.

The moments of audience participation are good fun, and the volunteers rose to their scenes with aplomb. On the whole, I believe everyone had a good time. Even the briefly shambolic moments were enjoyable!

Would I like to revisit this production a few weeks down the line?

I Sherwood.


Desperate Windsor Wives

THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR
Arena Theatre, Wolverhampton, Tuesday 13th December, 2011


Oddsocks’s winter production this year is quite possibly their most bonkers show to date. They set Shakespeare’s sit-com in a television studio in the 1950s, complete with static cameras and equally static cameramen. We are present at a “live broadcast” – the company (usually the Pembroke Players but here the Television Repertory Company) mingles with the audience and perform a warm-up song in appropriate doo-wop style, complete with washboard. Scene transitions are covered with black and white commercials on the large TV screen, extolling the many and varied virtues of Mrs Quickly’s wonder-product, a creation to rival Lily The Pink’s medicinal compound.

We are watching actors playing actors performing a TV play. This remove allows for all sorts of silliness and frame-breaking in the usual Oddsocks style. I won’t spoil any of the surprises because the tour is still ongoing but the postmodern slant doesn’t end with a touch of Acorn Antiques– there is a Bollywood influence at play too, that is bizarre given the context but none the less hilarious. It all serves to bring out the farcical elements of the plot, which has never been one of my favourites. Given this kind of treatment, it works very well indeed.

The cast of only five divvy up the characters, necessitating some quick changes and broad characterisations that add to the fun. Andrew McGillan, a regular player, gives us a teddy-boy Fenton (although he is not involved in the stag scene – a pity given the topical currency of the name) and an almost spherical Falstaff who is more like Elvis in his final years. Avita Jay’s Mrs Ford is melodramatic in a sari, while her Anne Page is a bobbysoxer in Capri pants. Taresh Solanki brings a touch of the Goodness Gracious Me’s to Mister Page, and I was especially tickled (not like that) by Paul O’Neill doubling as a Fawltyesque Mister Ford and a nerdish Master Slender. Cream of the crop, as ever, is the formidable Elli Mackenzie as the ubiquitous Mrs Quickly and a Victoria Wood-like Mrs Page. There is a scene with a Bendix Gyromatic washing machine that is indelibly printed on my memory.

Director and adaptor Andy Barrow is obviously a very clever and very silly man. Oddsocks Productions have come so far that their shows are no longer just a way to have some fun with Shakespeare, they are an event in themselves. The packed-out Arena theatre contained many repeat customers and, I am sure, some new converts to the cause.