HAMLET: The Comedy
Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Tuesday 14th June 2022
Oddsocks Productions’ summer tour this year contains all the hallmarks that make their shows so funny: Shakespeare, music, puppets, daft wigs… but this time, there’s a twist. The original text adapted by in-house genius Andy Barrow is the most famous tragedy ever penned, that of the Great Dane (and I don’t mean Scooby Doo.) So, does it work?
Barrow himself appears as Claudius, a Viking chieftain, looking like Henry VIII but with all the vocal intonations of our current unprincipled and criminal Prime Minister – instantly establishing himself as the villain of the piece. Barrow’s political satire has never been more prevalent, more acerbic, or more necessary, in a play that deals with someone who is unsuitable to rule. He’s also very funny, brimming with vapid Bo-Jo waffle, his motives thinly veiled. Topical asides zing through the script, making us enjoy the villain’s demise all the more when it finally happens.
Barrow’s partner in greatness, the formidable Elli Mackenzie appears as Gertrude, with something of our Queen’s plummy tones but none of her emotional reserve. Mackenzie also plays Hamlet’s BFF, Horatio as a sort of likeable oaf.
In the title role is Theo Toksvig-Stewart, an excellent addition to the team, expressing teenage moodiness through physicality and handling the text with clarity and ease. His ‘To Be’ has him toying with the idea of casting himself from the battlements, and it’s enlightening: his death could come at any precarious second, rather than the Prince contemplating suicide as an abstract concept, as per usual. Thus, Andy Barrow’s direction sheds new light on the well-known speech. This Hamlet is instantly likeable and he’s more than capable of holding the stage on his own.
Amber Lickerish’s Ophelia is played straight, a foil for Hamlet’s capers. When it comes to her mad scene, the jokes fall away. There are moments when Shakespeare’s tragedy bubbles up through the surface silliness. Clearly this troupe could pull off a straight version if they were that way inclined. The result is a patchiness in tone and approach. Luckily, we are not kept waiting long for the daftness to reassert itself over proceedings.
The marvellous Jack Herauville (Laertes, Polonius, etc) is consistently delightful. The climactic fight between Laertes and Hamlet – here done with spears rather than swords – is thrilling and funny. The show is at its best during its madcap moments: a hunting scene with glove puppets, the skirmish in Ophelia’s grave…
Barrow doesn’t send up the material but rather plays with it. It’s a very playful play. There are just a couple of pacing issues keeping it from comedic perfection.
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
Leave a comment | tags: Amber Lickerish, Andy Barrow, Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Elli Mackenzie, Hamlet: the Comedy, Jack Herauville, Oddsocks Productions, review, Theo Toksvig-Stewart, William Shakespeare | posted in play, Review, Shakespeare, Theatre Review
THE COMEDY OF ERRORS
Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Tuesday 15th June, 2021
It is nothing short of wonderful to be back in a theatre and watching the country’s funniest theatre company, Oddsocks, back on stage, doing what they do so brilliantly, after an enforced hiatus. Every time the company revisits a Shakespeare play they have toured once or twice before, they do something new with it, thereby keeping their work fresh and funny. This new production of Errors benefits from a host of folk songs and sea shanties, where previous versions have been resplendent with pop songs. Here the a capella singing lends atmosphere, and later, when accompanied by instruments, it’s still rousing stuff, keeping the energy levels high during transitions. I suspect this shift in musical style, using tunes in the public domain, is a cost-cutting exercise in these straitened times, but whether it is or it isn’t, it works extremely well.
Director/adaptor Andy Barrow has cast his Mrs in a lead role. Producer Elli Mackenzie appears as Antiphoni of Ephesus (and of course her identical twin from Syracuse) thereby cementing her position in my view that she is the funniest woman in the land. She and Barrow (as the hapless servants Dromio) form an exquisite double act. It’s a rare treat to see them performing together. There’s an abundance of physical comedy in this show, including a sequence with a large trunk that reminds me of Laurel & Hardy’s The Music Box, and the slapstick violence between the pair is like two stooges in search of a third.
Oddsocks veteran, the charming Joseph Maudsley makes a welcome return, appearing as Adrian (husband to Antiphoni – the gender swap doesn’t get in the way of the machinations of Shakespeare’s farcical plot). I was expecting a Rocky moment with Antiphoni calling her hubby’s name – but then, what do I know? Maudsley has an easy-going, immediately likeable stage presence. As do new recruits Harrie Dobby and Jack Herauville who fit right in with the company’s madcap style, delivering a range of supporting roles.
Comic business is Oddsocks’s business, hearkening back to commedia dell’arte; it’s the kind of thing that has to be seen live, for the timing, the daftness, and the sheer skill required to pull it off. And it’s all reasonably faithful to Shakespeare’s text, honed into two-hours traffic on the stage, with the occasional topical reference thrown in for good measure. The good news is this is the start of their summer tour. They will surely be visiting an indoor or outdoor venue near you soon. It would be an error to miss them!
Publicity image. You can check out TOUR DATES HERE.
Leave a comment | tags: Andy Barrow, Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Elli Mackenzie, Harrie Dobby, Jack Herauville, Joseph Maudsley, Oddsocks, review, The Comedy of Errors, William Shakespeare | posted in Review, Shakespeare, Theatre Review