Tag Archives: Dominic Gee-Burch

Wordplay and Swordplay

ROBIN HOOD AND THE REVOLTING PEASANTS

Artrix, Bromsgrove, Sunday 13th January, 2019

 

For their winter tour this year, the inestimable Oddsocks bring this new take on the legendary figure who has for centuries stood for the downtrodden and against the abuses of power.  As ever with this funniest of theatre companies, you can expect a lot of laughs, but there is something different about this offering.  In terms of form, there is a departure from the familiar style right from the off.  The introductions (a staple of Oddsocks’s shows, in which the actors adopt silly pseudonyms) is shared by all five, making for a more democratic presentation – there’s a clue there to how the content is going to play out.  Also, the cast members share narrating duties; the shows are always team efforts but there is an emphasis this time around…

Writer-director Andy Barrow appears as the villainous, sneering Sheriff, bleeding the peasantry dry so he can build his castles and mansions and duck houses.  Barrow is an old hand when it comes to dealing with the audience, doling out insults and putting down hecklers with good-natured wit.  He also gets to indulge his rock-star aspirations with his solo.  Not only can he somersault he can also belt out a good tune.

The satire is laid on with an industrial trowel as Barrow tackles issues and concerns that bedevil the country to this day.  One of the Sheriff’s nefarious plans involves a rudimentary form of fracking beneath Sherwood Forest, with the outlaws doing their utmost to stop it – through asking politely and singing protest songs.  Meanwhile, the peasants are being cleared out of town, their hovels levelled to make way for the gentrification of the area rather than building affordable housing for all…

It takes plucky Marion (a delightful Joanna Brown, new to the team) a crusader (not that sort) and pro-active member of the community to enlist the famous Robin to the cause.  Robin and the outlaws have been victim of fake news reports and are vilified by the peasantry they are seeking to assist.  Robin is played by Oddsocks veteran Dominic Gee-Burch as a funny, down-to-earth sort, most definitely not aristocratic.  Gee-Burch is immediately likeable, and impresses with his vocal skills in a rousing rendition of You’re The Voice.

The talented Ben Locke makes a welcome return to the troupe appearing (among other roles) as Little John, who is something of an eco-warrior.  Ellen Chivers, in her Oddsocks debut, brings a lot of humour to her characterisations, Patricia the peasant, Robin’s sister Scarlet, and a hapless Norman soldier.  As ever, Andy Barrow has gathered an excellent ensemble, and he works them hard, but the show is almost stolen out from under them by the antics of Twitchy the squirrel.

Fight direction by Ian Stapleton adds slapstick violence to the fun.  There is fisticuffs and swordplay with the women giving as good as the men.  Costumes by Sigrid Mularczyk and Vanessa Anderson are marvellously medieval, while being functional to allow for quick changes and action sequences.  As ever, the set is an intricate thing of flaps and moving parts, reminiscent of the company’s early years on a pageant wagon.

It’s enormous fun while being their most overtly political show to date.  It’s great to see an original story incorporating what works best about the Oddsocks approach: silliness, physical comedy, puppetry, modern musical numbers, and audience participation.  The action might be a little muddied at times but the message is perfectly clear.  If there is one thing this country needs, it’s a prick to the social conscience.  This show is a salutary (and hilarious) reminder of things that ought to be important to us all.

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Sheriff Andy Barrow having a night on the boos

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Rough Magic

THE TEMPEST

Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Tuesday 19th June, 2018

 

It’s not the first time The Tempest has been set in outer space.  The film, Forbidden Planet, translated the action – and the text – to a sci-fi setting; then a stage show, one of the first jukebox musicals, Return To The Forbidden Planet used Shakespearean lines in tandem with 1960s songs.  Now, Oddsocks Productions return to the play with sci-fi in mind, along with their trademark silliness and pop music… and it all makes for an evening of bonkers entertainment.

The Shakespeare is peppered with sci-fi references, with Star Trek featuring heavily, and Star Wars a close second.  Prospero is a kind of Old Ben Kenobi figure, with daughter Miranda’s hair curled in Princess Leia-like buns.  An engineer called Scottie even puts in an appearance.  The stroke of genius is having Trinculo, usually a jester, portrayed as a droid – Top marks to Gavin Harrison for his Anthony Daniels/C3PO impersonation!  Harrison also appears as the villainous Antonio, a baddie in search of a panto; although the cuts to the script mean he doesn’t get up to much, Harrison poses and postures beautifully, and it’s a pleasure to boo him.

Another stalwart returning for more madness is Dominic Gee Burch.  His Caliban, a mutant fish-man, as if the Creature from the Black Lagoon got too close to a nuclear reactor, is a gift for a gifted physical comedian.  New to the company, Amy Roberts makes a snooty ‘Alonza’, while her drunken ‘Stephanie’ is straight out of Starfleet Academy – the Geordie Shore campus.  Making her Oddsocks debut as a feisty, petulant Miranda, Alice Merivale is wildly enjoyable.  Her scenes with Ferdinand are especially good – mainly because it’s a moment when Shakespeare is allowed to come to the fore.  As Ferdinand and also an alien Ariel, Matt Penson speaks the verse beautifully, while maintaining the sense of anarchic fun that characterises an Oddsocks performance.

Director/genius Andy Barrow plays Prospero, like a bald Gandalf wafting his magic staff about, and he’s as gloriously silly as you’d expect, yet when it comes to the big speeches, Prospero’s famous lines (We are such stuff as dreams are made on…) he plays it straight, as though establishing his credentials.  Not that he needs to, of course, but he wisely reins in the slapstick and the silliness and the mucking around and lets the power of Shakespeare’s words work its magic.  Speaking of magic, the special effects are all gloriously low-tech, with some simple conjuring tricks adding to the atmosphere.

There are a couple of misfires but overall, it’s more hit than miss, and you’re never waiting long for the next thing to laugh at.  I feel more could be made of the Caliban and Trinculo under a blanket scene, for example, but then there are moments of sheer brilliance: I don’t want to spoil anything, but Ridley Scott’s Alien has a lot to answer for.

If you haven’t seen The Tempest before, you might not find this version all that enlightening.  If you haven’t (and if you have!) seen Oddsocks before, you’re in for a wild ride and a rocking good time.

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Brave new worlds! Prospero (Andy Barrow) and Miranda (Alice Merivale)


A Funny State of A Fez

THE COMEDY OF ERRORS

Derby Theatre, Monday 22nd July, 2013

 For their summer tour, Oddsocks Productions have applied their distinctive style to one of Shakespeare’s earliest works, a play that is already very funny before you Oddsocks it up.  Director/adaptor Andy Barrow leads a team of five new faces and it soon becomes apparent that he picks his cast members well.  This crazy, talented bunch are more than up to the challenges presented in an Oddsocks performance – not least of which is playing musical instruments.

With only six actors (an increase on the usual five) certain things have to be excised from the script.  Old Egeon is nowhere to be seen – he is the father of one set of twins and his arrest and threatened execution adds tension to the play.  But this is Oddsocks.  They even did Hamlet as a comedy.  With the jeopardy removed, this production keeps things light, focussing on the farcical elements of the plot and emphasising the slapstick and physical comedy.  You don’t miss Egeon at all.

Also omitted is Adriana’s sister Luciana, a rival for the affections of the twin of Adriana’s husband (it’s complicated).  Instead of missing her out completely, a woman on the front row is addressed and questioned – for an Oddsocks production, the show is comparatively light on audience participation.

But never mind what we don’t get.  What we do get is an evening of superlative comedy.  The setting is vaguely Turkish; the cart and costumes are looking good, giving the production a unified feel.  There are enough fezzes knocking around for a Sons of the Desert convention. Andy Barrow plays both Dromios, differentiating them by accent, displaying a physical agility that belies his middle-age; as Dromios’ masters Antipholus, Gavin Harrison is a real find; a splendid character actor in the Oddsocks tradition – reactions and expressions are heightened but thought processes are written all over his face.  Anna Westlake’s Adriana is commanding and shrewish but spirited and likeable all the same.  Dominic Gee-Burch and Marlon Soloman add to the cavalcade of silly characterisations, clearly enjoying themselves and proving themselves as versatile comic players.  Also impressive, in this impressive group, Miranda Heath is superb as the Abbess, a Courtesan and an Officer of the law.  Some of the changes are very quick.  At other times, the cast vamp on their instruments through a selection of familiar numbers: Ghost Town by the Specials and Madness’s House of Fun are particular favourites.

The show gives us a chorus of nuns who re-enact the shipwreck that split the two sets of twins when they were infants, before bursting into a surprise Diana Ross number.  Sister Act was never this silly.  But as well as these flashes of madness (and Madness) Shakespeare’s play is still very much in evidence.  The dialogue about Nell, a spherical kitchen maid, is delivered intact and remains one of the funniest bits of patter – Shakespeare invents Abbott and Costello’s entire act.

All the way through, with two actors playing both pairs of twins, I was thinking, how will they do the final reunion?  Brilliantly, is how they do it.  I did not see it coming, even though there are hints throughout the performance.  It all comes together for an hilarious denouement, proving my assertion that Andy Barrow is an unalloyed genius.  His approach to Shakespeare is both irreverent and respectful.  He understands the theatrical engine of the play and the theatrical traditions that underpin it, and yet somehow manages to give us a production that is distinctively his own.

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Cheek to cheek: Dromio (Andy Barrow) and the Courtesan (Miranda Heath)