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.