HAMLET: The Comedy
Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Tuesday 14th June 2022
Oddsocks Productions’ summer tour this year contains all the hallmarks that make their shows so funny: Shakespeare, music, puppets, daft wigs… but this time, there’s a twist. The original text adapted by in-house genius Andy Barrow is the most famous tragedy ever penned, that of the Great Dane (and I don’t mean Scooby Doo.) So, does it work?
Barrow himself appears as Claudius, a Viking chieftain, looking like Henry VIII but with all the vocal intonations of our current unprincipled and criminal Prime Minister – instantly establishing himself as the villain of the piece. Barrow’s political satire has never been more prevalent, more acerbic, or more necessary, in a play that deals with someone who is unsuitable to rule. He’s also very funny, brimming with vapid Bo-Jo waffle, his motives thinly veiled. Topical asides zing through the script, making us enjoy the villain’s demise all the more when it finally happens.
Barrow’s partner in greatness, the formidable Elli Mackenzie appears as Gertrude, with something of our Queen’s plummy tones but none of her emotional reserve. Mackenzie also plays Hamlet’s BFF, Horatio as a sort of likeable oaf.
In the title role is Theo Toksvig-Stewart, an excellent addition to the team, expressing teenage moodiness through physicality and handling the text with clarity and ease. His ‘To Be’ has him toying with the idea of casting himself from the battlements, and it’s enlightening: his death could come at any precarious second, rather than the Prince contemplating suicide as an abstract concept, as per usual. Thus, Andy Barrow’s direction sheds new light on the well-known speech. This Hamlet is instantly likeable and he’s more than capable of holding the stage on his own.
Amber Lickerish’s Ophelia is played straight, a foil for Hamlet’s capers. When it comes to her mad scene, the jokes fall away. There are moments when Shakespeare’s tragedy bubbles up through the surface silliness. Clearly this troupe could pull off a straight version if they were that way inclined. The result is a patchiness in tone and approach. Luckily, we are not kept waiting long for the daftness to reassert itself over proceedings.
The marvellous Jack Herauville (Laertes, Polonius, etc) is consistently delightful. The climactic fight between Laertes and Hamlet – here done with spears rather than swords – is thrilling and funny. The show is at its best during its madcap moments: a hunting scene with glove puppets, the skirmish in Ophelia’s grave…
Barrow doesn’t send up the material but rather plays with it. It’s a very playful play. There are just a couple of pacing issues keeping it from comedic perfection.
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆