Harlow Carr, Tuesday 12th July 2016.
With more energy and chaotic brilliance than bottled childhood, OddSocks’ rendition of ‘Macbeth’ was quirky, refreshing and thoroughly off-the-charts bonkers (in the good way). For me, this is how Shakespeare should be tackled for the modern audience; fresh perspectives, lack of restriction and experimental creativity with central ideas. Don’t get me wrong, I do appreciate a traditional rendition of a Shakespeare classic, but I am always more enthused by radical modernisations. I have never envisioned ‘Macbeth’ as a comedy and yet, yesterday evening, I was presented with just that- and it was fantastic!
The cast in this production are a generously talented bunch; comedy, instruments, vocals and fearlessness up to the eyeballs made for one fabulous performance. Lady Macbeth was the star of the show for me; her sassy and hen-pecking Lady. M was thoroughly engaging from start to finish. Her multi-roling of robotic witch and messenger were equally well played, with the Mrs Overall resemblance as the messenger being an absolute highlight. In the same vein, Macbeth was hugely entertaining and had a brilliant, booming voice which seemed to be made for this style of theatre. Both Lady M and Macbeth’s delivery of Shakespeare’s text was impeccable- making the task of deciphering the now-alien melodies of Shakespeare’s language surprisingly effortless.
I have a very genuine appreciation of the way that OddSocks use Shakespeare’s script with 90% accuracy whilst clearly focusing very heavily on intertwining modern references (both verbal and visual). The beauty is that this makes the language accessible to younger, modern audiences (also serving to keep the younger element engaged just as they might be starting to tune out). Those keep-them-on-their-toes references seemed very perfectly timed and they worked a treat. The house alarm (‘What’s the number?’/ ‘Try your mother’s Birthday’) being one shining example of this. Likewise, the interjection of songs ranging from ‘I Put a Spell on You’ and ‘Mad World’ to ‘Bat out of Hell’ and ‘One Way or Another’ was a fantastic aspect of the production, keeping Shakespeare’s quite ‘heavy’ play accessible in yet another way; allowing for mini musical ‘brain rests’- my younger self would have loved this as an introduction to Shakespeare.
Using the original Shakespearean proclamatory style as opposed to being microphoned-up (excepting the musical numbers) was a real strength of the cast and another example of how OddSocks combine old and fresh with great success. We were sitting quite far back and had no trouble hearing, and that must take some skill for actors performing for nearing two hours at that volume. The outdoor set-up is also a nicely authentic element of this Shakespeare adaptation and Harlow Carr is a stunning setting.
Amidst all this glowing praise, I do have one niggle… Although the whole nature of an OddSocks production seems to be (commendably) about taking Shakespeare’s classics out of their pristine boxes, dusting them off and shaking them up, there are aspects of Macbeth, naturally, that struggle to lend themselves to a comical adaptation. I would have liked a few more nods to the original genre in the more obviously tragic moments, like the news of Lady Macbeth’s death and the death of Macduff’s wife and children. Lady M’s ‘Out damn’d spot’ was a clever combination I thought; the sad madness played straight- faced on the top level, with the comical commentary providing the laughs on the level below; a few more of these moments would have been nice amidst the over-arching hoot-and-a-half approach.
From the comical, ditzy witches to the very visual gags of ‘is this a dagger I see before me?’ and ‘trifles’, this production was hell-bent on re-branding tragic ‘Macbeth’ as a giggle-fest, with oodles of success. What’s more, the comedy in this production came from more directions and means than I can include here, which, I think, is a perfect indication of its success as a fresh take on an old classic; the clever comic aspects are so well woven into the fabric of this once-tragedy that it undeniably, and somewhat inexplicably, works. This ‘steam-punk style’ rendition plows full steam ahead for the duration and it is brilliant. Much like the work of Propeller, my absolute favourite Shakespeare company, this is Shakespeare as it should be if we are to entice and engage younger modern audiences; unruly, adventurous and anything but tired and stuffy. Would I recommend? Thoroughly. Would I see An OddSocks production again? Abso-blummin’-lutely.