Tuesday 10th July 2018 at Harlow Carr Gardens, Harrogate.
Oddsocks Productions’ latest offering is a whacky Sci-Fi take on Shakespeare’s The Tempest and it’s another hit for a company approaching its triumphant 30th year in the business. Set on the ‘uninhabited fictitious planet Babel’, this production sees Will’s sprites and spirits as aliens, Caliban as alien-meets-swamp-creature and Prospero’s enemies as inhabitants of a spaceship. Not being a particular fan of Sci-Fi (who am I kidding? I have no knowledge of the area save what I’ve picked up from watching The Big Bang Theory), I didn’t enjoy this as much as the Montague Mods and Capulet Rockers take on Romeo and Juliet last year or Steampunk Macbeth the year before. That said, all of my favourite things about Oddsocks are bundled out of the trailer alongside the set and the cast: music, comic contemporary asides; lovingly embraced corpsing; banter with the audience; brilliant handling of Shakespeare’s language and of course a brand new and comic take on a Shakespeare classic.
In brief, The Tempest tells the tale of a usurped and deeply wronged nobleman who happens to have an interest in magic… Escaping betrayals, Prospero finds himself living on an isolated island (planet in the case of this production) with his young daughter, who of course grows up completely ignorant of anything regarding civilised society or other humans. Upon landing on the island, Prospero soon repeated the cycle of greedy thieving and took the land from the ‘rightful ruler’ Caliban, who he now keeps as a slave. Sensing that a ship (in this case, a space ship) carrying his enemies is near, Prospero instructs a magic spirit, Ariel, to cause chaos, leading the occupants of the wreckage straight to the awaiting Prospero, who has untold plans. Miranda falls for a member of the shipwrecked party, Ferdinand, while the rest of the disaster survivors wander the land in search of him. The themes are far-reaching, the messages many and the staging possibilities endless. At the root, this is a tale of colonisation, rivalry, conquering lands and learning how to function within changing relationships. It’s also of course a tale of betrayal and forgiveness – and everything in between, with a little magic to thrill and thwart along the way.Artistic Director and Director Andy Barrow dons his third company cap as one of Shakespeare’s greatest creations: Prospero, the usurped Duke with access to magic and mystical literature. Barrow has become something of a personal hero in my third year of Oddsocks fun – to concoct shows like this year after year is no easy feat and Barrow not only nails all aspects of direction in the realm of outdoor modernised Shakespeare performance, he also swings round from back stage to on stage to demonstrate his acting prowess and comic talents too. Prospero is played with a wry smile and a worldliness which lends itself to the lightness sought after in this production; Propsero’s famous intensity is not to be seen here, he’s too busy proving his mettle in a battle of wills and/or sticks. Alice Merivale offers a charmingly contemporary Miranda who raises laughs with growling petulant protests when dad says no to the new guy. Miranda is never an easy role to pull off and it’s a relief to see Merivale give a wide berth to the reading of Miranda as the whiny victim or simply the tragic female. Yet despite the comic approach the production takes, Merivale offers layers to Miranda with some sincere moments as well as the melodramatic infatuation scenes which were always going to be an easy target for fun in an adaptation like this. Merivale also has a lovely singing voice and offers the production some of its most notable musical performances.
Matt Penson is our romantic lead Ferdinand and together with Merivale, he delivers some wonderful physical comedy and comic melodrama – we couldn’t have any smushy sincere romance here of course – Barrow is always waiting in the wings with a flourish and a trick to keep ribs tickled… Gavin Harrison raises many a delighted boo and hiss from the crowd as Prospero’s wretched and treacherous brother Antonio, doubling up as the decidedly much more welcome servant Trinculo…in the form of R2-D2 robot. Amy Roberts is superb as the dramatic mother Alonsa searching for her endangered son and drunken servant Stephanie (bravo for the gender flip with both roles there – a nice way to even out the male-heavy cast) as well as a very charismatic Ariel 2 when the first (Merivale) is tied up in a scene as Miranda. Dom Gee Burch gives numerous glowing performances here but shines particularly brightly as Caliban and Ferdinand’s brother Sebastian. Equipped with fearless silly dances, a perfected proclamatory style spot on for a production like this and a flair for the comic, Burch is a delight. As Caliban, he invites a mixture of wry sympathy and derision, but there’s little space for the depth of feeling Caliban tends to evoke in a production – this take on The Tempest is very well aimed at the comic bullseye. What we get in place of any real depth of feeling are musical numbers – and although fewer here than in other productions I recall, the songs are always great for injecting some fun and keeping the production pacy and engaging.
As ever, this isn’t a show for the traditionalists – I would think that the poster and blurb alone would have such folks heading for the shredder. BUT, as ever, if you do enjoy Shakespeare in any capacity or if you enjoy weird and wonderful modernisations of ye olde texts of yesteryear, I’d recommend a trip to see this fantastically entertaining company. I don’t think this production had quite so many laughs and tricks as the previous productions I’ve seen, and I don’t think the piece is quite as brilliantly crafted as those which have gone before, but that could of course be down to my lack of a taste for Sci-Fi shenanigans. What remains clear however, is that Oddsocks is never less than entertaining and well worth seeing – their handling of Shakespeare’s language is reason enough alone to go, but the fun and flair on display when Oddsocks get to work bringing Shakespeare to the modern masses is really something special. I’m going to end with an impressive fact here, too – Oddsocks always manages to secure a great cast, and it’s no exception this year, with some returning actors and some new…but consider this: the entire cast are performing in both Romeo and Juliet as well at The Tempest, with the two running side by side throughout the tour. That’s two mammoth Shakespeare plays adapted and Oddsocks-ified. Thats dozens of characters. A cast of just six actors proffer Will’s most famous lines with all the confidence of Brian Blessed, presumably without ever muddling their Tybalt and their Caliban – impressive stuff. Long live Oddsocks!
Oddsocks Productions’ take on The Tempest tours to both outdoor and indoor venues until August 29th 2018 – you can find more information and tickets here.