Tag Archives: Oddsocks

Rock Bottom

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!

A Midsummer Nights Dream

It Takes Two: Oberon (Andy Barrow) and Titania (Asha Cornelia Cluer)


Wordplay and Swordplay

ROBIN HOOD AND THE REVOLTING PEASANTS

Artrix, Bromsgrove, Sunday 13th January, 2019

 

For their winter tour this year, the inestimable Oddsocks bring this new take on the legendary figure who has for centuries stood for the downtrodden and against the abuses of power.  As ever with this funniest of theatre companies, you can expect a lot of laughs, but there is something different about this offering.  In terms of form, there is a departure from the familiar style right from the off.  The introductions (a staple of Oddsocks’s shows, in which the actors adopt silly pseudonyms) is shared by all five, making for a more democratic presentation – there’s a clue there to how the content is going to play out.  Also, the cast members share narrating duties; the shows are always team efforts but there is an emphasis this time around…

Writer-director Andy Barrow appears as the villainous, sneering Sheriff, bleeding the peasantry dry so he can build his castles and mansions and duck houses.  Barrow is an old hand when it comes to dealing with the audience, doling out insults and putting down hecklers with good-natured wit.  He also gets to indulge his rock-star aspirations with his solo.  Not only can he somersault he can also belt out a good tune.

The satire is laid on with an industrial trowel as Barrow tackles issues and concerns that bedevil the country to this day.  One of the Sheriff’s nefarious plans involves a rudimentary form of fracking beneath Sherwood Forest, with the outlaws doing their utmost to stop it – through asking politely and singing protest songs.  Meanwhile, the peasants are being cleared out of town, their hovels levelled to make way for the gentrification of the area rather than building affordable housing for all…

It takes plucky Marion (a delightful Joanna Brown, new to the team) a crusader (not that sort) and pro-active member of the community to enlist the famous Robin to the cause.  Robin and the outlaws have been victim of fake news reports and are vilified by the peasantry they are seeking to assist.  Robin is played by Oddsocks veteran Dominic Gee-Burch as a funny, down-to-earth sort, most definitely not aristocratic.  Gee-Burch is immediately likeable, and impresses with his vocal skills in a rousing rendition of You’re The Voice.

The talented Ben Locke makes a welcome return to the troupe appearing (among other roles) as Little John, who is something of an eco-warrior.  Ellen Chivers, in her Oddsocks debut, brings a lot of humour to her characterisations, Patricia the peasant, Robin’s sister Scarlet, and a hapless Norman soldier.  As ever, Andy Barrow has gathered an excellent ensemble, and he works them hard, but the show is almost stolen out from under them by the antics of Twitchy the squirrel.

Fight direction by Ian Stapleton adds slapstick violence to the fun.  There is fisticuffs and swordplay with the women giving as good as the men.  Costumes by Sigrid Mularczyk and Vanessa Anderson are marvellously medieval, while being functional to allow for quick changes and action sequences.  As ever, the set is an intricate thing of flaps and moving parts, reminiscent of the company’s early years on a pageant wagon.

It’s enormous fun while being their most overtly political show to date.  It’s great to see an original story incorporating what works best about the Oddsocks approach: silliness, physical comedy, puppetry, modern musical numbers, and audience participation.  The action might be a little muddied at times but the message is perfectly clear.  If there is one thing this country needs, it’s a prick to the social conscience.  This show is a salutary (and hilarious) reminder of things that ought to be important to us all.

the-sherrif

Sheriff Andy Barrow having a night on the boos


Rough Magic

THE TEMPEST

Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Tuesday 19th June, 2018

 

It’s not the first time The Tempest has been set in outer space.  The film, Forbidden Planet, translated the action – and the text – to a sci-fi setting; then a stage show, one of the first jukebox musicals, Return To The Forbidden Planet used Shakespearean lines in tandem with 1960s songs.  Now, Oddsocks Productions return to the play with sci-fi in mind, along with their trademark silliness and pop music… and it all makes for an evening of bonkers entertainment.

The Shakespeare is peppered with sci-fi references, with Star Trek featuring heavily, and Star Wars a close second.  Prospero is a kind of Old Ben Kenobi figure, with daughter Miranda’s hair curled in Princess Leia-like buns.  An engineer called Scottie even puts in an appearance.  The stroke of genius is having Trinculo, usually a jester, portrayed as a droid – Top marks to Gavin Harrison for his Anthony Daniels/C3PO impersonation!  Harrison also appears as the villainous Antonio, a baddie in search of a panto; although the cuts to the script mean he doesn’t get up to much, Harrison poses and postures beautifully, and it’s a pleasure to boo him.

Another stalwart returning for more madness is Dominic Gee Burch.  His Caliban, a mutant fish-man, as if the Creature from the Black Lagoon got too close to a nuclear reactor, is a gift for a gifted physical comedian.  New to the company, Amy Roberts makes a snooty ‘Alonza’, while her drunken ‘Stephanie’ is straight out of Starfleet Academy – the Geordie Shore campus.  Making her Oddsocks debut as a feisty, petulant Miranda, Alice Merivale is wildly enjoyable.  Her scenes with Ferdinand are especially good – mainly because it’s a moment when Shakespeare is allowed to come to the fore.  As Ferdinand and also an alien Ariel, Matt Penson speaks the verse beautifully, while maintaining the sense of anarchic fun that characterises an Oddsocks performance.

Director/genius Andy Barrow plays Prospero, like a bald Gandalf wafting his magic staff about, and he’s as gloriously silly as you’d expect, yet when it comes to the big speeches, Prospero’s famous lines (We are such stuff as dreams are made on…) he plays it straight, as though establishing his credentials.  Not that he needs to, of course, but he wisely reins in the slapstick and the silliness and the mucking around and lets the power of Shakespeare’s words work its magic.  Speaking of magic, the special effects are all gloriously low-tech, with some simple conjuring tricks adding to the atmosphere.

There are a couple of misfires but overall, it’s more hit than miss, and you’re never waiting long for the next thing to laugh at.  I feel more could be made of the Caliban and Trinculo under a blanket scene, for example, but then there are moments of sheer brilliance: I don’t want to spoil anything, but Ridley Scott’s Alien has a lot to answer for.

If you haven’t seen The Tempest before, you might not find this version all that enlightening.  If you haven’t (and if you have!) seen Oddsocks before, you’re in for a wild ride and a rocking good time.

prospero-and-miranda-meteor-shower

Brave new worlds! Prospero (Andy Barrow) and Miranda (Alice Merivale)


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.

oddsocks r and j

Called to the bar: Andy Barrow as Tybalt


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!

wind

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.

Image

It’s the time of year to get out your Long Johns.