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.