THE COMEDY OF ERRORS
Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Tuesday 15th June, 2021
It is nothing short of wonderful to be back in a theatre and watching the country’s funniest theatre company, Oddsocks, back on stage, doing what they do so brilliantly, after an enforced hiatus. Every time the company revisits a Shakespeare play they have toured once or twice before, they do something new with it, thereby keeping their work fresh and funny. This new production of Errors benefits from a host of folk songs and sea shanties, where previous versions have been resplendent with pop songs. Here the a capella singing lends atmosphere, and later, when accompanied by instruments, it’s still rousing stuff, keeping the energy levels high during transitions. I suspect this shift in musical style, using tunes in the public domain, is a cost-cutting exercise in these straitened times, but whether it is or it isn’t, it works extremely well.
Director/adaptor Andy Barrow has cast his Mrs in a lead role. Producer Elli Mackenzie appears as Antiphoni of Ephesus (and of course her identical twin from Syracuse) thereby cementing her position in my view that she is the funniest woman in the land. She and Barrow (as the hapless servants Dromio) form an exquisite double act. It’s a rare treat to see them performing together. There’s an abundance of physical comedy in this show, including a sequence with a large trunk that reminds me of Laurel & Hardy’s The Music Box, and the slapstick violence between the pair is like two stooges in search of a third.
Oddsocks veteran, the charming Joseph Maudsley makes a welcome return, appearing as Adrian (husband to Antiphoni – the gender swap doesn’t get in the way of the machinations of Shakespeare’s farcical plot). I was expecting a Rocky moment with Antiphoni calling her hubby’s name – but then, what do I know? Maudsley has an easy-going, immediately likeable stage presence. As do new recruits Harrie Dobby and Jack Herauville who fit right in with the company’s madcap style, delivering a range of supporting roles.
Comic business is Oddsocks’s business, hearkening back to commedia dell’arte; it’s the kind of thing that has to be seen live, for the timing, the daftness, and the sheer skill required to pull it off. And it’s all reasonably faithful to Shakespeare’s text, honed into two-hours traffic on the stage, with the occasional topical reference thrown in for good measure. The good news is this is the start of their summer tour. They will surely be visiting an indoor or outdoor venue near you soon. It would be an error to miss them!
Publicity image. You can check out TOUR DATES HERE.
Leave a comment | tags: Andy Barrow, Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Elli Mackenzie, Harrie Dobby, Jack Herauville, Joseph Maudsley, Oddsocks, review, The Comedy of Errors, William Shakespeare | posted in Review, Shakespeare, Theatre Review
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.
Cheek to cheek: Dromio (Andy Barrow) and the Courtesan (Miranda Heath)
Leave a comment | tags: Andy Barrow, Anna Westlake, Derby Theatre, Dominic Gee-Burch, Gavin Harrison, Marlon Soloman, Miranda Heath, Oddsocks Productions, review, The Comedy of Errors, William Shakespeare | posted in Theatre Review