Tag Archives: Joseph Maudsley

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.

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

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Best of a Bard Bunch

WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE’S LONG LOST FIRST PLAY (ABRIDGED)

The REP, Birmingham, Tuesday 14th February, 2017

 

The Reduced Shakespeare Company is back.  Building on the success of earlier, brilliant shows (The Complete Works, The Bible) this time the premise is the discovery of a manuscript – beneath a car park in Leicester, of course – of Shakespeare’s first attempt at dramatic endeavour.  It turns out old Will had all his ideas at once and bunged them all in one play.  So begins a mash-up of Will’s most famous lines, scenes and characters.  If you’re a Shakespeare nerd, you’re in for a good time.

Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor’s (and Shakespeare’s) script is clever, bordering on genius, throwing out such wonderful clashes as Dromio and Juliet, Hamlet and Lady Macbeth, King Lear and the Three Witches… hijacking lines out of context, or rather giving them new context as befits the skit.  It makes you realise how many recurring ideas Shakespeare had.

If you’re not a Shakespeare nerd, you may be somewhat bewildered, but I think there’s enough daftness and comic invention to keep you laughing.  References to contemporary culture abound: Beyonce, for example, and a High-Street purveyor of baked goods that rhymes with legs.  The show posits a theory that Walt Disney is a latter-day Shakespeare – but, if you’re not a Disney nerd either, you might not catch all the jokes.

The cast of three work apparently tirelessly to keep the pace fast and the laughs coming.  Joseph Maudsley’s little mermaid Ariel is a joy, James Percy makes a formidable Lady Macbeth, and Michael Pearson’s ukulele-strumming Richard III is a scream – but much of the fun comes from the quick changes and the surprising juxtapositions of characters and speeches.

The plot, such as it is, concerns a ‘merry war’ between Ariel and Puck, using their magic to interfere with characters’ lives.  It takes the Bard himself to appear as deus ex machina to sort it all out at the end.  The first act climaxes in a slapstick tempest, with audience participation – it is this kind of daftness everyone can enjoy.  Director Austin Tichenor doesn’t let the action stagnate and I wonder if a smaller, more intimate venue might assist with audience engagement – it would certainly save the cast a lot of running around; they have to cover a lot of ground to maintain the pace.

It is part of the company’s ‘brand’ to perform with American accents.  Somehow this makes their handling of the material crasser but no less clever.  You may not appreciate all the in-jokes and literary allusions but you cannot fail to admire the energy of this smartass show, performed by a trio of exquisite comic players.

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Bloody Funny

MACBETH

mac, Birmingham, Sunday 17th July, 2016

 

This latest version of the Scottish play by Oddsocks (their third, I believe) has a steampunk aesthetic, making for their best-looking production to date.  The costumes (by Vanessa Anderson and the company) are exquisite: platform boots, long coats and goggles are the order of the day, on a set of riveted steel, cogs, gears and tubes.  It’s a dystopian world of leadership challenges, and therefore ripe for topical comedy along with the trademark Oddsocks silliness and delivery of Shakespeare’s text without too many alterations.

Director Andy Barrow is a northern Macbeth, sounding like Ned Stark – the accent leads to new gags at Shakespeare’s expense.  Barrow is a generous performer and allows the rest of his cast of six to shine in their own way.  Rebecca Little’s Lady Macbeth is powerful and funny, a tiny tyrant with a nice line in vocals and melodramatic posturing – her sleepwalking scene is an utter joy: she plays it relatively straight against the backdrop of general silliness and the interpolation of a Tears For Fears classic number.  Gavin Harrison gives us a toffee-nosed King Duncan and a bungling murderer, while Ben Locke’s Macduff is a cocky, heroic Scot.  Anna Westlake’s Fleance is a bit of a scene-stealer, an emo kid with a dark side, and Oddsocks stalwart Joseph Maudsley gives us the daftest Banquo’s ghost I’ve seen.

The witches are gothic automatons, glitchy and eerie but it’s the scene in which they show Macbeth the apparitions that is when the steampunk theme comes to fruition, with puppet babies suspended in a vacuum tube.  This is Oddsocks creativity and inventiveness at its best.

As tragedies go, this one is relentlessly laugh-out-loud funny.  No detail is overlooked to wring as many laughs out of the audience as possible.  Visual gags supplement the verbal.  Slapstick and silliness underscore some of Shakespeare’s most famous lines.  The violence is cartoony rather than horrific.  The whole thing is absolutely daft but in the cleverest way.  It’s knockabout stuff but it ticks along like clockwork.

Yet again, Andy Barrow delivers a marvel, an evening’s entertainment using an ancient text, even older theatrical traditions and conventions, and yet the result is something that feels absolutely fresh and new.

Oddsocks have been touring such high quality shows for 27 years.  If this latest gem is anything to go by, these punks are showing no signs of running out of steam.

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Riveting: Ben Locke and Andy Barrow cross swords as Macduff and Macbeth.


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!

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Check out tour dates here


This Night’s the Night!

TWELFTH NIGHT

mac, Birmingham, Saturday 12th July, 2014

 

“If music be the food of love, play on,” Count Orsino utters the famous first line. The onstage band launches into Roxy Music’s Love is the Drug and suddenly Orsino’s white suit and black tie make sense. “That strain again,” he interrupts his rendition, “it has a dying fall.”

There, in a nutshell, you have the essence of this production. Pop music (and plenty of it) is blended with Shakespeare’s text. Sometimes the gear change jars but for the most part, the transitions are seamless – it’s almost as if Old Bill had wanted to write a modern jukebox musical all along.  Every song is a happy surprise, adding to the action rather than interrupting it. Nowhere else will you get Viola belting out Adele’s Rolling in the Deep and a petulant, strutting Malvolio with a humongous quiff giving us his best Morrissey.   I tremble to imagine the music clearance bill for this production.

Yes, Oddsocks is back. This is their 25th anniversary tour and I’m proud to say I’ve been a devotee for most of that period. Director Andy Barrow never seems to be short on ideas and his Twelfth Night ranks up there with my favourites.

Rebecca Little is a hoot as a diminutive Viola, running around with a stepladder, in her presumed dead brother’s Robert Palmer suit. Much is made of the height difference between her and her ‘identical’ twin Sebastian – the magnificent Dom Gee-Burch who also gives us a Feste the Clown as a kind of Russell Brand figure.

The mighty Andrew McGillan’s Sir Toby Belch is an ageing rocker in patched denim, a hair band around his Hair Band wig. It’s a revelation of a characterisation. The drunkenness and hedonism are presented in a way that is entirely relatable to everyone in the audience; this has been Barrow’s approach for a quarter of a century: making Shakespeare accessible and above all enjoyable to people of all ages and academic achievement. Barrow is some sort of theatrical alchemist, mixing very British silliness with Shakespeare’s speech patterns and poetry. The text always survives the Barrow treatment and plenty of Shakespeare’s original jokes go down very well.

Louisa Farrant is a beautiful, gawky Olivia – Miranda Hart could learn a lot from her delivery. As always, Barrow has put together a cast of consummate comedy performers, and there is such warmth and goodwill generated by this excellent ensemble, it’s no wonder people keep coming back to Oddsocks for a fun night out.

Barrow himself is the prissy, sneering Malvolio, giving a master class in verbal and physical humour. His cross-gartered scene is, literally, a revelation.

Joseph Maudsley steals the show in my opinion doubling as a suave Orsino and a prattish Sir Andrew Aguecheek. Orsino’s barely repressed attraction to Viola in disguise as a man gives us the most hilarious running joke of the night – Little too, as Viola or as Maria a Cockney maid who would not be out of place drinking with Kat Slater in the Queen Vic, is another jewel in this production’s crown.

It’s a unique, fast and funny take on Shakespeare’s rather melancholic rom-com from a theatre company at the height of their game.

Arrive early if you can – at some venues there is an extra treat before the show begins: a set from Outsider (Felix Mackenzie-Barrow and Lucy Varney), an upcoming and talented musical duo performing their own material, that eases us in rather nicely before the silliness explodes onto the stage.

 

Andy Barrow. Heaven knows he's Malvolio now.

Andy Barrow. Heaven knows he’s Malvolio now.


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.