Tag Archives: Leamington

Fun with Heartbreak


Jephson Gardens, Leamington, Thursday 7th June, 2018


This version from the aptly named (for this play) Heartbreak Productions sets Shakespeare’s supreme rom-com at a village garden fete as the Great War draws to a close – also apt in this centenary year of the end of that conflict.  A quintet of villagers is staging the play to raise money for the Red Cross and the action begins with a scene of them bickering as they set things up.  So, as well as playing two or three (or even four) of the Shakespearean roles, there is this additional layer.  For the most part, this framing device works very well, but when the action is interrupted for the first time for a protracted argument between the girl playing Hero and the girl playing Beatrice, which includes audience participation, the flow of the main event is stalled.  Other instances later on, when they are changing the simple scenery, work better as interjections, reminding us of the conceit.

Director Paul Chesterton keeps things moving apace, adding plenty of physical comedy to this wordy, witty piece; his cast have a snappy delivery, differentiating the characters with a range of accents, rendering this version of Messina a microcosm of Britain!  Shaun Miller’s affable, Scots Benedick is a strong foil for Bryony Tebbutt’s fiery, trouser-sporting Beatrice, which is contrasted nicely with one of her other roles as the pompous, malapropism-dropping Dogberry.  Faye Lord is an appealing Hero to George Naylor’s remarkable Claudio – Naylor brings out the fun and humour of Claudio, (before events take their dramatic turn, that is, changing the prevailing mood from fun to heartbreak) and during the wedding scene, which is handled magnificently by all, plays the angry bridegroom with power and conviction.  Man of the match though is Ashleigh Aston playing Leonato, Don John (here Countess Joan) and Don Pedro.  She also manages a turn as a hilarious watchman.

The adaptation, with a few cuts here and a few re-attributed lines there, keeps all the action and intrigue intact, placing an emphasis on rumour and misinformation.  There’s only a couple of instances when it feels like they’re spreading themselves thin – needs must, I suppose.

Above all, the wit, charm and intensity of the Shakespeare comes through, despite the odd splash of drizzle and the noise of the church bells and the ducks flying overhead.  It’s an entertaining and pleasant way to pass a summer’s evening, with an engaging cast and one of the bard’s most delightful works.





Royal Spa Centre, Leamington, Friday 27th November, 2015


Oddsocks Productions’ winter tour is their version of the Arthurian legend – and it’s a worthy addition to the many that have gone before. Also, it’s truly in the vein of their own inimitable style and so laughs are guaranteed – and plenty of them.

Elli Mackenzie’s script covers everything from Arthur’s conception to his marriage to Guinevere, taking in familiar plot points along the way: the sword in the stone, the lady in the lake, and so on. The dialogue is peppered with puns and gags, some of them corny, some of them clever. Director Andy Barrow brings it all to life with trademark silliness – even the props are hilarious.

There is a lot of narration but it is shared by all five cast members so it never slows things down. The play covers a lot of ground in its running time as highlight follows hard upon highlight (Arthur as a baby is almost too funny to watch). It’s the best laugh I’ve had in a long time.

Peter Hoggart is King Arthur, playing with swagger and charm. He is the handsome hero we can all admire, laugh with and, of course, laugh at. Lucy Varney demonstrates very clearly that pretty girls can be funny too, appearing as Arthur’s somewhat chavvy mother, Igraine, and later on as a plucky Guinevere who earns her own place among the knights of the Triangle Table.   New to the company, Simon Spencer-Hyde is a real find, giving some lovely character work as Merlin, an Archbishop. Sir Winkalot and a coquettish Morgause. Oddsocks favourite Dom Gee-Burch returns with a range of roles: his Sir Shoutalot never gets old but his Lady of the Lake has to be seen to be believed. Writer Elli Mackenzie appears as the villainous Morgan Le Fey, her hair a towering storm cloud of black and green. Camp levels are running high but with this and her other parts: Sir Dubious and a dim-witted Saxon, Mackenzie consolidates her status in my view as the funniest woman in British theatre.

The playing is broad but the timing is tight – for the most part. Being only the second performance of the tour, there is the odd missed cue or dried line but the cast rally and style out any eventuality. It adds to the fun. In a way, you don’t want them to get too slick; it would take the edge off the knockabout style.

There is sword-fighting, jousting and plenty of running around. Quick changes, special effects, and some original songs – a change from the BritPop Shakespeare of recent summers. The songs have humour too but serve to change the pace, a chance for us to catch our breath, before we’re laughing out loud at the next gag.

It’s one of their strongest shows all-round, funnier than Spamalot, blending theatrical tradition with wit and comic invention. There are a few jokes for the grown-ups without being smutty and there are some well-placed satirical barbs and jibes – just don’t look for subtlety.

It’s fun for all the family and an excellent workout for your laughing muscles. I can’t wait to catch it again.