Tag Archives: Oddsocks Productions

Puppet Masters

THE ADVENTURES OF PINOCCHIO

Artrix, Bromsgrove, Sunday 12th January, 2020

 

For their tour this winter, the remarkable Oddsocks turn to Carlo Collodi’s classic for children about a sentient puppet who longs to be a real grown-up.  Written and directed by Andy Barrow, this adaptation is fairly faithful to the source material while remaining an undeniably Oddsocks production.  Puppets are a key ingredient of every Oddsocks show.  With this story, they take centre stage.  As ever, there is the comical inventiveness, the slapstick, the wit and overt theatricality – something for everyone.  Adults will revel in the meticulously ramshackle production values and the arch humour, while children become so engaged with the story-telling they shout out, almost involuntarily, advice to the protagonist.  I have seen many, many Oddsocks shows, and they’ve all been fun, but this is the one that has proved most absorbing for youngsters.  Perhaps they identify with Pinocchio’s struggle to become a moral being and a productive member of society.

In the title role, Freya Sharp gives a far from wooden performance.  Her Pinocchio is a naughty boy, bursting with energy and cheeky charm.  Sharp brings clownish physicality to the role, especially early on when Pinocchio is finding his feet.

Andy Barrow appears as Pinocchio’s maker, Geoff Petto (the ‘off’ has dropped off), looking like Einstein’s grandfather but able to match Sharp in terms of physicality.  With only four in his cast, Barrow has to appear in many other roles, including the con-artist Fox and a big-bellied impresario, gloriously named Andrew Floyd Mackintosh.

Jeannie Dickinson is excellent as the Fairy, the con-artist Cat, and I love her Harlequin’s rendition of Puppet On A String.  Danny Hetherington is equally great, appearing as the Cricket, the Policeman, and naughty boy Lampwick – among other roles.  The episodic nature of the plot demands quick changes and versatility from everyone involved.

There are many scene changes, with a set that opens up, revolves and transforms before our very eyes and while we wait – but these transitions are part of the deal, part of the fun.  We may have seen the old two-lengths-of-blue-fabric-form-a-seascape shtick before, but I guarantee you won’t have seen a giant white shark like this one this side of Steven Spielberg!  There are some hilariously gruesome (yet still suitable for kids) special effects, like when Pinocchio falls asleep too close to the fire; and the nose-growing effect made my ribs ache.

Vanessa Anderson’s costumes are another hugely enjoyable part of proceedings, instantly conveying character and encapsulating the Oddsocks spirit of silliness.

Barrow keeps the bonkers nature of Collodi’s story, while tempering the darker aspects and the moralising.  The result is a highly satisfying piece for all the family.  This is theatre at its most fun, in terms of form and content, which is what Oddsocks is all about.

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Toy story: Andy Barrow and Freya Sharp

 


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


Mods and Mockers

ROMEO AND JULIET

Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Tuesday 20th June, 2017

 

The consistently excellent Oddsocks Productions revisits Shakespeare’s tragedy of star-cross’d lovers, this time giving it a mods and rockers setting.  There is more of Brighton than Verona and, in keeping with the company’s fun-loving style, it works extremely well.  The two households are divided by musical differences; the Montagues are the mods, the Capulets the rockers, and the audience is also divided along these lines for a running joke of participation that, instead of becoming more tired as the play goes on, becomes more hilarious.

Director and resident genius Andy Barrow appears as both Capulet, a pot-bellied Black Country rocker, and a bandana-sporting, sneering Tybalt.  At one point he is called upon to argue with himself behind the bar of the Capulets’ Cavern of Rock – just one of the many highlights that exhibit the man’s comic superpowers.  This is also the first time I’ve heard a rendition of ‘Black Betty’ in a Shakespeare production.  Barrow is generous is sharing the laughs out among the rest of his cast of six, a group that comprises familiar faces and new recruits.

Returning favourites include Rebecca Little as the Nurse – another of her remarkable characterisations, distilling the essence of the Shakespearean model and blending it with Oddsocks energy.  It is remarkable how the moment can turn, and knockabout antics suddenly become heartfelt.  I’ve said it before, many times, this is what Oddsocks does so brilliantly: giving us a lot of fun but remaining true to the spirit of the play.  Every now and then Shakespeare asserts himself and the drama comes to the fore.  One such moment tonight is the fight between Tybalt and Mercutio (Alexander Bean).  It’s all fun and games until someone loses a kinsman.  Cartoon, slapstick violence is suddenly deadly serious.  Kudos to fight director Ian Stapleton!

Also back for more is the marvellous Gavin Harrison as Benvolio, in parka and pork pie hat, and ‘Jimmy Paris’ a Rockstar guitarist.  Harrison is fast becoming a fixture in this company – they’d be hard pressed to find anyone to better him.

Newcomer Alexander Bean’s Mercutio surprises us with the sudden beauty of the Queen Mab speech, and his West Indian Friar Laurence is a deadpan delight.  The rhythms of Shakespeare’s verse fits many accents – Oddsocks certainly puts that to the test!

Also new are the eponymous lovers.  Pippa Lewis’s rock chick Juliet is wonderfully immature and, unbelievably, credible!  She also plays a mean saxophone.  Good-looking Matthew Burns is a great find as Romeo, moody, volatile and very funny.

This tight ensemble all play instruments and sing.  Oddsocks productions of late have become musicals, interpolating hits of yesteryear (and sometimes of the present day!) into the action.  The choices are always spot on.  And never more than at the end, when the stage is littered with bodies and Benvolio leads a rendition of ‘Enjoy Yourself, it’s later than you think’.

Bloody bonkers and bloody brilliant.

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Called to the bar: Andy Barrow as Tybalt


Exceedingly Good

THE JUNGLE BOOK

Bridge House Theatre, Warwick, Friday 13th January, 2017

 

The irrepressible Oddsocks turn their attention to Kipling’s classic stories for their winter production and it would be Rudyard not to love it.  Writer Elli Mackenzie delivers all the key points and character relationships while allowing plenty of room for the company’s trademark humour.  It’s a great fit.  There is even more than a touch of the original’s darker moments – this is an Oddsocks show with emotional range, but fear not, it is also exceedingly funny.

Jora Singh is man-cub Mowgli, a wiry, energetic figure with expressive, Buster Keaton eyes.  It’s a highly physical role and Singh soon establishes himself as a likeable presence.  Miranda Heath’s Bagheera is a slinky, Catwoman persona, all latent power and feline superiority.  Barry Shannon’s Baloo is lazy and avuncular – his slow-moving Akela is hilarious and gets the kids heckling from the back of the auditorium.  Jennifer Shakesby brings complexity to Mowgli’s wolf brother, Greyone – a game of fetch takes on significance as the relationship develops – but it is her appearance as Kaa the python that provides a highlight of the first act.

Andy Barrow’s orangutan has more than a touch of the Boris Johnson to him in a sharply satirical scene in which monkeys urge Mowgli to leave the jungle.  The political comment is enjoyed by the grown-ups.  Barrow is also the villain of the piece, Shere Khan, here portrayed as a bombastic Maharajah-type, chewing the scenery as much as some of the other animals!

Barrow, as ever, directs and keeps the surprises coming.  The elephant is breath-taking but there is an even greater masterstroke to come when Shere Khan meets his fate that takes your breath away for its comic invention and effectiveness.  You have to be very clever indeed to be this daft and get away with it.

As you’d expect from this troupe, there are groanworthy gags, puppets and live music, and some panto-style audience participation, but this show is also strong on plot and character development, making for an excellent evening of family-friendly fare that further secures Oddsocks’ reputation as the most entertaining and delightful company on the road today.

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Like Kipling? I don’t know, I’ve never kippled. Jorah Singh as Mowgli.


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.

 

 


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)


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


A Funny State of A Fez

THE COMEDY OF ERRORS

Derby Theatre, Monday 22nd July, 2013

 For their summer tour, Oddsocks Productions have applied their distinctive style to one of Shakespeare’s earliest works, a play that is already very funny before you Oddsocks it up.  Director/adaptor Andy Barrow leads a team of five new faces and it soon becomes apparent that he picks his cast members well.  This crazy, talented bunch are more than up to the challenges presented in an Oddsocks performance – not least of which is playing musical instruments.

With only six actors (an increase on the usual five) certain things have to be excised from the script.  Old Egeon is nowhere to be seen – he is the father of one set of twins and his arrest and threatened execution adds tension to the play.  But this is Oddsocks.  They even did Hamlet as a comedy.  With the jeopardy removed, this production keeps things light, focussing on the farcical elements of the plot and emphasising the slapstick and physical comedy.  You don’t miss Egeon at all.

Also omitted is Adriana’s sister Luciana, a rival for the affections of the twin of Adriana’s husband (it’s complicated).  Instead of missing her out completely, a woman on the front row is addressed and questioned – for an Oddsocks production, the show is comparatively light on audience participation.

But never mind what we don’t get.  What we do get is an evening of superlative comedy.  The setting is vaguely Turkish; the cart and costumes are looking good, giving the production a unified feel.  There are enough fezzes knocking around for a Sons of the Desert convention. Andy Barrow plays both Dromios, differentiating them by accent, displaying a physical agility that belies his middle-age; as Dromios’ masters Antipholus, Gavin Harrison is a real find; a splendid character actor in the Oddsocks tradition – reactions and expressions are heightened but thought processes are written all over his face.  Anna Westlake’s Adriana is commanding and shrewish but spirited and likeable all the same.  Dominic Gee-Burch and Marlon Soloman add to the cavalcade of silly characterisations, clearly enjoying themselves and proving themselves as versatile comic players.  Also impressive, in this impressive group, Miranda Heath is superb as the Abbess, a Courtesan and an Officer of the law.  Some of the changes are very quick.  At other times, the cast vamp on their instruments through a selection of familiar numbers: Ghost Town by the Specials and Madness’s House of Fun are particular favourites.

The show gives us a chorus of nuns who re-enact the shipwreck that split the two sets of twins when they were infants, before bursting into a surprise Diana Ross number.  Sister Act was never this silly.  But as well as these flashes of madness (and Madness) Shakespeare’s play is still very much in evidence.  The dialogue about Nell, a spherical kitchen maid, is delivered intact and remains one of the funniest bits of patter – Shakespeare invents Abbott and Costello’s entire act.

All the way through, with two actors playing both pairs of twins, I was thinking, how will they do the final reunion?  Brilliantly, is how they do it.  I did not see it coming, even though there are hints throughout the performance.  It all comes together for an hilarious denouement, proving my assertion that Andy Barrow is an unalloyed genius.  His approach to Shakespeare is both irreverent and respectful.  He understands the theatrical engine of the play and the theatrical traditions that underpin it, and yet somehow manages to give us a production that is distinctively his own.

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Cheek to cheek: Dromio (Andy Barrow) and the Courtesan (Miranda Heath)


R.O.G.E.R. More

R.O.G.E.R. RADIO

Derby Theatre, Friday 8th March, 2013

 

Oddsocks Productions, renowned for their adaptations of Shakespeare and other classic works, have other strings to their bow.  One of those strings is the R.O.G.E.R. Radio format.  This is the second of their shows in this format.  The premise is simple but rich.  The plots are framed as live recordings of radio drama at which we are privileged to attend and in which we are invited to participate.  The cast of three, in evening wear, create all the characters through vocal work, and provide sound effects in the time-honoured way (shoes on a tray of gravel) and also in some inventive ways, often exaggerated to cartoonish extent.

But there is more to it, another level.  There is a tension between the performers outside the story they are performing.  We are constantly pulled out of the fictional world they create and into another one.  Added to that are the visual gags, unsuitable for a radio play, that give us the theatre audience plenty to look at.  Perhaps I’m making it sound more complicated than it is.  Perhaps it’s like trying to explain a joke; a joke dismantled is robbed of what makes it funny.

And this show is relentlessly funny.

We are treated to a double bill of classic stories.  First up is Jules Verne’s Journey To The Centre of the Earth – a Boy’s Own adventure of exploration and discovery.  Played straight, the radio drama would paint pictures in our minds.  We would imagine all the special effects better than any Hollywood adaptation.  Here, there is an element of that but we are constantly drawn back to the radio studio and the creation of the piece before our very eyes.  The story falls secondary to this organised chaos.  The story is a coat-stand on which to hang all the silliness of the format.

Being an Oddsocks show, there are wild wigs and silly voices and even puppets.  The script by director Andy Barrow and Elli Mackenzie is riddled with double entendres, double talk, word play and silliness.  There is a running gag with an echo in a bucket that, just as you think it’s wearing thin, reaches its hilarious pay-off.  Barrow knows what he’s doing – the pacing is spot on.  There is, inevitably, audience participation; my contribution to a flock of doves sounded more like a Trimphone but there is something marvellous watching hundreds of people shouting lines from cue cards in funny accents.  We are a nation brought up on pantomime after all.

The second story The Lair of the White Worm is the more coherent narrative of the two.  It’s as though the first one is the set up for the second, familiarising us with the conventions of the piece.   Bram Stoker’s gothic melodrama has a range of weird characters that lend themselves more readily to an Oddsocks parody. It is also rich with Freudian symbolism which means, in this case, an unending supply of knob and hole jokes.  It’s cheeky schoolboy stuff but never grubby or puerile.  There are mongooses (Mongeese? Mengeese?) who meet sticky ends; animal cruelty has never been this funny.

Andy Barrow himself leads his company of three.  As resident genius of the company, he is a theatrical force to be reckoned with.  Joseph Maudsley has a suave, self-satisfied air as he pulls off some of the trickier sound effects, in role as a smug actor playing these characters.  And it’s a pleasure to see Susie Riddell back with the company.  All three are vocally versatile, energetic and disciplined.  That said, there is room for manoeuvre and improvisation when things don’t go exactly to plan.  A cleaver fails to hack through a cabbage.  An attack with a water-sprayer becomes too enthusiastic… You have to see these things to appreciate them in context.  The accidents keep the show fresh for the actors.  Clearly they are enjoying themselves immensely.  That enjoyment transmits to the audience.

It’s a winning formula and I look forward to further stories receiving the R.O.G.E.R. Radio treatment.  This production deserves to be seen by a wider audience in a range of venues across the country.  It’s Round the Horne on Red Bull, The Goon Show on a sugar overdose.  You’d be hard pressed to find a funnier and more gloriously silly night out.

ROGER RADIO