Tag Archives: Elli Mackenzie

The Wizard of Oddsocks

THE WIZARD OF OZ

Artrix, Bromsgrove, Sunday 14th January, 2018

 

In the summer, they do Shakespeare; in the winter, the funniest theatre company in the land turn their attention to classic stories.  This year, the inimitable Oddsocks Productions take us to the land of Oz in this new adaptation of the L. Frank Baum novel by writer/director/genius Andy Barrow.  His cast of five actors, supplemented by puppets, do the lot.  An original twist has Dorothy’s Toto narrating the action but on the whole, the show sticks to the familiar plot, albeit streamlined and seen through the prism of Oddsocks’s trademark style.  It is not a spoof – the source material is never mocked but the pantomime styling of the presentation makes for a fresh interpretation of the time-honoured tale.

Making her Oddsocks debut as our heroine is Freya Sharp; her Dorothy is perky and fun without being saccharine or overly earnest (looking at you, Judy G!).  The rest of the cast are familiar faces:  Andrew McGillan, among other roles, appears as the tallest munchkin and an impressively physical scarecrow, for which he must have had several major bones removed.  If not, I want the number of his chiropractor.  Joseph Maudsley returns, mainly as the Tin Woodman – he gets to utter the most blatant innuendos with a look of utter innocence (The show has plenty of laughs for the grown-ups but is never smutty).  Also back is the hilarious Gavin Harrison, with ten roles to play, including a pantomime villain of a Wicked Witch of the West and the Great and Terrible Wizard himself.  Finally, the funniest woman in Britain (and probably Europe) Elli Mackenzie excels as a ‘gender fluid’ Cowardly Lion.

The cast perform with seemingly indefatigable gusto and charm, while Andy Barrow’s script keeps them busy and keeps us laughing.  Practical effects are brought into play to depict such moments as things blown away by the cyclone, the Lion swimming, the Scarecrow dropped from the sky… These throwaway moments are delightful in their invention and execution, while big moments: the melting of the Wicked Witch (spoiler, sorry) and the big reveal of the Wizard (a magnificent giant puppet head) to be none other than the great and terrible humbug currently in residence in the White House, reveal the genius of Andy Barrow, the Wizard of Oddsocks.  Yes, we’ve had a lot of laughs; yes, the story and meaning of Baum’s original remain intact, but also we get topical references and political satire added into the mix.

Along with some familiar numbers, there are original songs by Felix M-B, all of them pretty good.  The closing number in particular has me humming all the way home.

Above all, the show is fun, fun, fun.  Silly, irreverent and clever, Oddsocks are in magnificent form and this is a wonderful Wizard of Oz.

off-to-the-emerald-city-lo

Friends of Dorothy: Freya Sharp, Joseph Maudsley, Elli Mackenzie and Andrew McGillan

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Exceedingly Good

THE JUNGLE BOOK

Bridge House Theatre, Warwick, Friday 13th January, 2017

 

The irrepressible Oddsocks turn their attention to Kipling’s classic stories for their winter production and it would be Rudyard not to love it.  Writer Elli Mackenzie delivers all the key points and character relationships while allowing plenty of room for the company’s trademark humour.  It’s a great fit.  There is even more than a touch of the original’s darker moments – this is an Oddsocks show with emotional range, but fear not, it is also exceedingly funny.

Jora Singh is man-cub Mowgli, a wiry, energetic figure with expressive, Buster Keaton eyes.  It’s a highly physical role and Singh soon establishes himself as a likeable presence.  Miranda Heath’s Bagheera is a slinky, Catwoman persona, all latent power and feline superiority.  Barry Shannon’s Baloo is lazy and avuncular – his slow-moving Akela is hilarious and gets the kids heckling from the back of the auditorium.  Jennifer Shakesby brings complexity to Mowgli’s wolf brother, Greyone – a game of fetch takes on significance as the relationship develops – but it is her appearance as Kaa the python that provides a highlight of the first act.

Andy Barrow’s orangutan has more than a touch of the Boris Johnson to him in a sharply satirical scene in which monkeys urge Mowgli to leave the jungle.  The political comment is enjoyed by the grown-ups.  Barrow is also the villain of the piece, Shere Khan, here portrayed as a bombastic Maharajah-type, chewing the scenery as much as some of the other animals!

Barrow, as ever, directs and keeps the surprises coming.  The elephant is breath-taking but there is an even greater masterstroke to come when Shere Khan meets his fate that takes your breath away for its comic invention and effectiveness.  You have to be very clever indeed to be this daft and get away with it.

As you’d expect from this troupe, there are groanworthy gags, puppets and live music, and some panto-style audience participation, but this show is also strong on plot and character development, making for an excellent evening of family-friendly fare that further secures Oddsocks’ reputation as the most entertaining and delightful company on the road today.

mowgli

Like Kipling? I don’t know, I’ve never kippled. Jorah Singh as Mowgli.


Much Fun About Everything

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.

Sheer brilliance.

 

 


Putting the Wind Up

THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS

Bridge House Theatre, Warwick, Friday 28th November, 2014

 

The winter touring production by Oddsocks this year is a new adaptation of Kenneth Grahame’s classic novel for children. Director and adaptor Andy Barrow, viewing the story through the prism of Oddsocks characteristic silliness and slapstick theatricality, manages to maintain the integrity of the plot and the well-known and much-beloved characters. As with his Shakespearean shows, the original is still very much with us but presented in this inventive and funny company’s inimitable style. There is something very English about Grahame’s novel, but then there is something particularly English about the Oddsocks sense of humour too.

Elli Mackenzie, as the programme says, ‘shows us her Mole.’ And what an endearing little thing it turns out to be. She also appears as other characters – I almost didn’t recognise her as a male policeman. The woman is a chameleon and an object lesson in characterisation and physical comedy. A co-founder of the company, she is also one of its strongest assets. It’s worth the ticket price (and more) to see her in action.

Fast becoming an Oddsocks favourite, Joseph Maudsley makes for a dapper Ratty, messing about on the water. Maudsley has an appealing, showbizzy-swagger, and a twinkle in his eye, topped off by his mellifluous singing voice – I could listen to him all night. Indeed the music for this production, composed by Lucy Ward, involves a good deal of a capella singing which is very pleasant, and a lot of fun. Audience participation is, of course, a key ingredient.

Also a lot of fun is Oddsocks stalwart, Andrew McGillan is Toad, the insufferable hedonist. He is a master of the larger-than-life performance and adept and quick-witted in his audience interactions. Seeing the show so early in its run (only the second ever performance) there are still some rough edges with transitions and technical cues; McGillan rises above it all, and such is the nature of the in-house style, glitches and hitches actually add to the charm. And it is very charming – especially in the first half. The second half is faster and more manic, and the full ingenuity of the foldaway set becomes apparent, when suddenly a steam train materialises!

Dom Gee-Burch returns to the fold to play Badger and others – a versatile character actor and musician, well-suited to the ongoing silliness. Newcomer Rosamund Hine fits seamlessly into proceedings, matching the quality of the old hands; I hope she becomes similarly embroiled in future Oddsocks productions.

But the idyll is being encroached upon – and here Andy Barrow brings this story from a bygone (or never-was) age bang up-to-date. The countryside, the seat of these animals’ pleasures, is under threat. Barrow switches Grahame’s class conflict with environmental concerns, and ‘fracking’ is not only a perfect Oddsocks word, it’s also a legitimate target in what is the company’s most political show so far. It says something about the state of the nation when this bunch of wacky funsters is compelled to comment on it. Barrow is clever enough not to descend into full-on agit-prop but the message is loud and clear. The countryside must be protected from destructive greed and the country as a whole must be protected from dangerous upper class oafs, the likes of whom we allow to become Mayor of London or Prime Minister. Like Toad, they need to be watched. For the public good, they need to be stopped. The show is like an antidote to Downton Abbey.

The message doesn’t overshadow the fun. There is something here for everyone. Plenty of action and silliness for the kids, peppered with risqué remarks for the adults. An alternative to the traditional pantomime, while using many panto techniques, this Wind in the Willows is a great laugh for all the family. The show is touring until February – catch it if you can!

wind

Check out tour dates here


R.O.G.E.R. More

R.O.G.E.R. RADIO

Derby Theatre, Friday 8th March, 2013

 

Oddsocks Productions, renowned for their adaptations of Shakespeare and other classic works, have other strings to their bow.  One of those strings is the R.O.G.E.R. Radio format.  This is the second of their shows in this format.  The premise is simple but rich.  The plots are framed as live recordings of radio drama at which we are privileged to attend and in which we are invited to participate.  The cast of three, in evening wear, create all the characters through vocal work, and provide sound effects in the time-honoured way (shoes on a tray of gravel) and also in some inventive ways, often exaggerated to cartoonish extent.

But there is more to it, another level.  There is a tension between the performers outside the story they are performing.  We are constantly pulled out of the fictional world they create and into another one.  Added to that are the visual gags, unsuitable for a radio play, that give us the theatre audience plenty to look at.  Perhaps I’m making it sound more complicated than it is.  Perhaps it’s like trying to explain a joke; a joke dismantled is robbed of what makes it funny.

And this show is relentlessly funny.

We are treated to a double bill of classic stories.  First up is Jules Verne’s Journey To The Centre of the Earth – a Boy’s Own adventure of exploration and discovery.  Played straight, the radio drama would paint pictures in our minds.  We would imagine all the special effects better than any Hollywood adaptation.  Here, there is an element of that but we are constantly drawn back to the radio studio and the creation of the piece before our very eyes.  The story falls secondary to this organised chaos.  The story is a coat-stand on which to hang all the silliness of the format.

Being an Oddsocks show, there are wild wigs and silly voices and even puppets.  The script by director Andy Barrow and Elli Mackenzie is riddled with double entendres, double talk, word play and silliness.  There is a running gag with an echo in a bucket that, just as you think it’s wearing thin, reaches its hilarious pay-off.  Barrow knows what he’s doing – the pacing is spot on.  There is, inevitably, audience participation; my contribution to a flock of doves sounded more like a Trimphone but there is something marvellous watching hundreds of people shouting lines from cue cards in funny accents.  We are a nation brought up on pantomime after all.

The second story The Lair of the White Worm is the more coherent narrative of the two.  It’s as though the first one is the set up for the second, familiarising us with the conventions of the piece.   Bram Stoker’s gothic melodrama has a range of weird characters that lend themselves more readily to an Oddsocks parody. It is also rich with Freudian symbolism which means, in this case, an unending supply of knob and hole jokes.  It’s cheeky schoolboy stuff but never grubby or puerile.  There are mongooses (Mongeese? Mengeese?) who meet sticky ends; animal cruelty has never been this funny.

Andy Barrow himself leads his company of three.  As resident genius of the company, he is a theatrical force to be reckoned with.  Joseph Maudsley has a suave, self-satisfied air as he pulls off some of the trickier sound effects, in role as a smug actor playing these characters.  And it’s a pleasure to see Susie Riddell back with the company.  All three are vocally versatile, energetic and disciplined.  That said, there is room for manoeuvre and improvisation when things don’t go exactly to plan.  A cleaver fails to hack through a cabbage.  An attack with a water-sprayer becomes too enthusiastic… You have to see these things to appreciate them in context.  The accidents keep the show fresh for the actors.  Clearly they are enjoying themselves immensely.  That enjoyment transmits to the audience.

It’s a winning formula and I look forward to further stories receiving the R.O.G.E.R. Radio treatment.  This production deserves to be seen by a wider audience in a range of venues across the country.  It’s Round the Horne on Red Bull, The Goon Show on a sugar overdose.  You’d be hard pressed to find a funnier and more gloriously silly night out.

ROGER RADIO