Tag Archives: Kevin Kemp

Sublime and Ridiculous

MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING

mac, Birmingham, Sunday 19th July, 2015

 

Oddsocks is back (are back?) with another madcap double bill of Shakespearean comedy. The one I catch is my favourite of all of Will’s work (they’re also doing Twelfth Night) and I can’t wait to see what director Andy Barrow has done with and to it. With only a cast of six, there are some inevitable changes and truncations but the bulk of the text survives, along with the drama; Barrow takes away but he also gives – the action is augmented by the clever interpolation of pop songs. Amazingly, it all works like a dream.

Barrow heads the cast – I’d never seen a Much Ado in which Leonato is the star turn, but here we go. Unflinchingly silly, Leonato sports a Llewellyn-Bowen wig and a lounge lizard suit. He rips off his trousers to dance along to Single Ladies, and his shirt for a wrestling bout in order to settle his grievance with Claudio. As a performer, Barrow is a mass of physical energy; as a director, he is unerringly clever. It feels as though he is collaboration with Shakespeare.

Regular Oddsockian Kevin Kemp is a cheeky and adorable Benedick, who gets us on his side from the get-go. Kemp also doubles as henchman Borachio – a broader characterisation but nonetheless entertaining. Rebecca Little’s Beatrice is puckish and feisty. The pair handle the ‘merry war’ of wit with clarity and apparent ease – Andy Barrow lets Shakespeare’s best lines out untrammelled. Little is also Dogberry, leader of a neighbourhood watch whose interrogation techniques contravene several laws, including those of biology and physics. While in general the playing is broad, when it comes to the ‘low’ comedy, it gets broader still. Silliness abounds. It’s ridiculous but in keeping with the overall approach.

And then we come to the sublime. In the wedding scene, it falls to Peter Hoggart to turn the mood from comedy to drama as his dashing and handsome Claudio renounces his fiancée at the altar. It’s a powerful moment and you feel the gear change. And then he breaks into a rousing rendition of Tainted Love and we’re back in silly mode again. When Benedick and Beatrice admit their love for each other, you can hear a pin drop. Barrow lets Shakespeare do the work here and it’s electrifying. When Benedick challenges Claudio, we know he means it. Even in this cartoon-world of silly wigs and pop music, there can be genuine tension. Marvellous!

Lucy Varney is a spirited Hero who throws herself into the physical humour – and all the cast are adept at adlibbing. Gavin Harrison delights as villain Don John, a creep and a weirdo indeed. His Don Pedro is more understated (if anything in this production is understated) and allows for the dramatic tension of the later scenes to play. Shakespeare balances humour and emotion; Barrow does the same but cranks it up to eleven.

Oddsocks deliver the goods again. An accessible, highly entertaining evening enjoyed by all. I cannot praise or recommend them enough.

Beatrice (Rebecca Little), Benedick (Kevin Kemp) look on as the Friar (Gavin Harrison) ministers to the fallen Hero (Lucy Varney)

Beatrice (Rebecca Little), Benedick (Kevin Kemp) look on as the Friar (Gavin Harrison) ministers to the fallen Hero (Lucy Varney)

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Back in the Hood

THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD
Arena Theatre, Wolverhampton, Wednesday 21st November, 2012

Oddsocks Productions’ winter show this year is a new version of the outlaw legend, a story familiar from countless retellings, both played straight and in spoofs. All the familiar elements are here: the evil Sheriff, the Merry Men, Maid Marian, the archery contest… but given the Oddsocks treatment. The broad humour, wordplay, innuendo are all here with a lavish coating of slapstick and physical comedy. There is music of a folk nature (composed by Lucy Ward) and of course, a couple of puppets put in an appearance.

This was the first ever performance and at times this was more obvious than others. The set is ingenious, intricate and versatile but brings with it certain drawbacks, making some of the transitions less than slick. In time, these will speed up and, when the script is embedded and the quick changes better organised, the show will run like clockwork – although, to be perfectly honest, the delays, the missed cues and the wobbly walls add to the fun. Oddsocks can get away with it; their enthusiastic brand of knockabout silliness allows for the wheels to come off from time to time.

The cast of five play multiple roles, forming a likeable ensemble working their (odd) socks off to keep the balloon aloft. Kevin Kemp is the titular hero. This Robin is not an aristocrat gone wild but a man of the people. His nobility is of the down-to-earth, working man variety. Kemp is also hilarious as long-serving dungeon occupant Obadiah, complete with stretched limbs and silly beard. Maid Marian is played by Oddsocks newcomer, Louisa Farrant, a classy beauty not shy of plain-speaking and who plays a mean flute. Joseph Maudsley stalks around on stilts as a not-so Little John, and also has a bash at a Bishop. Andrew McGillan is Friar Tuck and Will Scarlet, throwing himself around. They are all very, very funny so I won’t pick a favourite.

This hard-working, energetic and merry band is led by writer/director Andy Barrow as the evil Sheriff and Much the Miller’s Son in a ratty mullet. Barrow hams it up with relish and the script shows his mastery of humour in all its forms. This is good old British comedy, stemming from the likes of The Goons and Round the Horne but there are also hints of the Three Stooges in the slapstick and Abbot & Costello in the double talk. The man knows how to make you laugh.

This is Oddsocks’s most physical show to date. There is plenty of sword play and stage combat (choreographed by Amed Hashimi) that doesn’t repeat a gag, and there is a lot of coming and going to serve the contrivances of the story. I was struck by how political the show is. Robin Hood is a political figure, always has been, but here, with bang up-to-date topical jokes and obvious parallels to the rich who are getting rich off the backs of the poor, the play calls us to action. We all have to be Robin Hood if we are to overcome the exploitation we face. There is a lot about public officials serving the law rather than being above it. This colourful production (wonderful costumes by Mike Lees) shows us the issue can be as simple as black and white, right and wrong.

I am certain as the tour carries on, the organisation will improve and the performances will be slicker, and I really liked the darker moments when it all goes dramatic. Apart from one: the Sheriff’s first scene. He goes straight into his dramatic exposition and we sit there waiting for the chance to boo him as we have been warmed up to do in the prologue. An insult or even just a sneer to the audience as he walks on would allow us the opportunity. As it was, our boos were a long time coming, because we were focussed on the storytelling.

The moments of audience participation are good fun, and the volunteers rose to their scenes with aplomb. On the whole, I believe everyone had a good time. Even the briefly shambolic moments were enjoyable!

Would I like to revisit this production a few weeks down the line?

I Sherwood.


Big Laughs

THE MIGHTY BEAST
Civic Hall, Stratford upon Avon, Wednesday 25th April, 2012

This latest show from Oddsocks Productions is a departure from their customary Shakespeare and the Classics-based hilarity but not a departure from hilarity, I am tickled to report.

We are witness to a “live broadcast” of a radio drama from a studio in the 1930s, and so the set is simply a couple of microphones and some tables laden with props. A projection on the back wall reveals the title of the piece and the face of the eponymous gigantic gorilla. The cast of four populate the play with a host of characters, every one with an extremely silly accent, although the overall tone is the clipped teddibly British accents of something like Brief Encounter.

It is all extremely silly indeed. Although this would work as a radio drama, the visual aspects are not overlooked in the slightest. To help distinguish between characters – and to make the thing sillier – the cast don a succession of wigs, hats and beards, a procedure that becomes increasingly frantic as the action progresses. While characters converse at the microphones, other cast members provide sound effects to build the scene. There is of course the obligatory boots on gravel sound – you can’t do a radio play without it – but there are also some inventive ways of portraying swinging through the jungle on vines and walking through bison-infested terrain. Whistles are blown, teacups are stirred and cabbages are slapped. The audience is enlisted to play a tribe of Cockneys, prompted by cue cards to chant, “Who’s that geezer?” and utter aggressive “Ribbits” to suggest a horde of angry frogs.

This is, in case you haven’t guessed, a spin on the story of King Kong: a film-maker and his crew travel to a mysterious island, encounter the mighty beast of the title, and bring it back to London to exploit for the purposes of show business. And it works on more than one level. We get the radio play itself which, like any good piece of narrative theatre, paints pictures in the ear of the beholder. We also get the slapstick of the cast actually trying to act the piece, and it’s all very funny but there is also something more…

This comes out in the second act. Not only does the play give us a laugh-out-loud evening out but it uses the familiar film to make a satirical point about the state of entertainment today. “Krong” (sic) is exploited in a talent show called The Beast Factor. Contestants must sing to appease the gorilla who is barely contained by chains and the fumes of bootleg vodka (provided by the wonderfully named Russian character, Krakwonov). If the savage beast is not soothed, the contestant is horribly killed and the next is brought in. It’s all a fix so that the producer’s favourite will win in the end.

An effective and satirical metaphor for the woeful state of televised music today where hopefuls are eaten up and spat out in monstrous fashion. At one point, a character opines “Why can’t we enjoy music for its own sake? Why does it always have to be a competition?” It is a serious comment and a stand against the prevailing tide.

The format reminded me of Round the Horne re-enactments that did the rounds a while ago. The content also reminded me of the golden age of British radio comedy: the silly voices, the wordplay, the speaking at crossed purposes… The splendid cast (Mark Peachey, Rebecca Jenkins, Kevin Kemp and Andy Barrow) perform with gusto, versatility, quick-wittedness and a sense of enjoyment of what they’re doing that is infectious.

Oddsocks have created a piece that showcases the talents of the performers and the wit and cleverness of director and writer Andy Barrow. That the beast can be suggested by heavy drumbeats, a furry balaclava, furry armbands and growling into a bucket says a great deal about the triumph of invention over expenditure. This piece is rich in ideas, jokes and fun. You don’t need to have two ape knees to rub together.