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!
It Takes Two: Oberon (Andy Barrow) and Titania (Asha Cornelia Cluer)
Leave a comment | tags: A Midsummer Night's Dream, Alex Wadham, Alice Merivale, Andy Barrow, Asha Cornelia-Cluer, Belgrade Theatre Coventry, Christopher Smart, Oddsocks, Peter Hoggart, review, William Shakespeare | posted in Review, Shakespeare, Theatre Review
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)
Leave a comment | tags: Andy Barrow, Gavin Harrison, Kevin Kemp, Lucy Varney, mac Birmingham, Much Ado About Nothing, Oddsocks Productions, Peter Hoggart, Rebecca Little, review, William Shakespeare | posted in Theatre Review