A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM
Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Tuesday 18th June, 2019
Oddsocks return, not only to Coventry, but also to Athens, the fictional Athens of Shakespeare’s romcom, for this new production that marks thirty years in the business. Director Andy Barrow never fails to come up with new ideas to reinterpret and restage the Bard, with his pared-down cast and signature Oddsocks humour. A stroke of genius is to have the ‘Mechanicals’ as builders working at Theseus’s palace: and so the set is initially draped in their dustsheets before ‘transforming’ into the forest. Barrow himself appears as Bottom the Builder (yes, he can!) complete with beer belly and builder’s bottom. We laugh straight away but even dressed like this, Barrow can wring nuances from his characterisation. His Egeus is a blustering gammon, and his Oberon is a towering faun, with cloven hooves and curling horns.
Most of the humour, most of the playing, is done with broad strokes, and Barrow’s cast prove masters (and mistresses) of the in-house style. Alex Wadham’s cocky Demetrius and desperately melodramatic Thisbe; Asha Cornelia-Cluer’s upper-class twit of a Hippolyta, her plucky Helena and graceful Titania; Peter Hoggart’s sheepish Lion – (Hoggart brings slapstick, physical comedy to his Lysander); and Christopher Smart’s easy-going Theseus and officious Peter Quince… Alice Merivale’s feisty Hermia and her energetic Scouse Puck… The entire ensemble works tirelessly to populate the scenes, adlibbing when they need to but also delivering Shakespeare’s verse with expression and conviction. This is Shakespeare at its most accessible – the inclusion of popular songs, played live by this versatile cast, adds to the fun and to the story. I’ve seen many a jukebox musical where the song choices don’t work anywhere near as well. Hermia and Lysander give a rendition of The Corrs’s Runaway, Helena sings You Can’t Hurry Love, Bottom treats us to Passenger’s Scare Away The Dark (I suspect Andy Barrow would be a rock star in another life)… The whole thing ends with Oberon and the Fairies Dancing in the Moonlight. And it’s a blast.
Of course, the play-within-a-play is achingly funny, with the added bonus of a member of the audience selected to portray the Wall, for a spot of good-natured victimisation. Where some productions attempt to make us feel with Thisbe’s mock-plaintive words, Barrow goes all-out for big laughs. And gets them.
A joyous version, both faithful and subversive, that shows Oddsocks are still at the top of their game after all this time. Here’s to the next thirty years!