Interview: Oddsocks Productions’ Elli Mackenzie & Andy Barrow, Part II

In Part I of this interview with Oddsocks founders Elli Mackenzie (Creative Producer) and Andy Barrow (Artistic Director), we talked origins, values and the importance of adapting to survive no matter what the world throws at you. Here in Part II, we chat about influences, the Laurel and Hardy V Chaplin divide and of course, some of those cracking ‘the show must go on’ tales…

Onto slightly more general theatre questions then… As your own work is so funny, I want to know what makes you laugh? Like BIG laughs/ tears streaming – the whole shebang?

Andy: Task Master, last night –

Elli: Yes!

Andy: We’re doing a regular, before-bed Task Master – we’ve just got into that, maybe because we’re stir-crazy, I don’t know. But before that, we grew up with Morecambe and Wise, Dad’s Army –

Elli: – Laurel and Hardy –

Andy: – Tommy Cooper and – what’s the name of that guy who did all the stunts? He was amazing.

Elli: Crawford –

Andy: No – but, yeah, Michael Crawford too…

Elli: Which, when you look back at it now, it’s kind of cringe-worthy but –

Andy: Maybe Laurel and Hardy stands the test of time but just about everything else is dated.

Elli: It’s very divisive isn’t it? Some people say Charlie Chaplin, other people say Laurel and Hardy, I had that debate on Twitter or something – you know, who made you laugh? Charlie Chaplin leaves me cold really; I can admire the skill –

That really hurts me…

Elli: (laughing) Oh really, does it? It just doesn’t do it for me – it’s Laurel and Hardy all the way. And it really is one or the other isn’t it? That’s what’s come across to me.

Andy: And Buster Keaton! It wasn’t so much funny as impressive and incredible and I suppose there are moments in Oddsocks history that I would put down to Buster Keaton. In our 1999 Hamlet the panto, we did the falling structure on top of someone – and that’s totally Buster Keaton.

So just because I missed the op earlier – where does that bravery come from, to take Macbeth and make it funny; to take Hamlet and make it a panto; to find such silly humour in the tragedy? It’s pretty genius to watch…

Andy: It’s pretty close together – I do get bored watching people take it so seriously, because life is full of ridiculousness. I don’t know why we came up with it and why we came up with the style –

Elli: – It was needs must. I think it’s about entertainment and we started off in the way we did but then we also in very early days started performing half hour two hander Shakespeare – ‘Mini Shakespeares’ we called them and we performed them in Heritage spots and realised this was a family audience. So as a way to keep all generations going –

Andy: – It’s also about taking the truth and being truthful in ridiculous situations – so it’s situation comedy. To a certain extent, Morecambe and Wise, with their little plays was actually a very good example of it because they would play ridiculous situations, and we just sort of took that kind of style and went with it –

Elli: – It also allows you to really dig deeper with the moments of sadness as well. I mean, it does highlight those moments; they’re as important as those moments of making it humorous. I think it can be so poignant – Hamlet, which we’ve got online at the moment, is a real demonstration of that. I always sort of wince, I find it difficult to watch stuff back but I was just watching the ending the other day and I thought we earned that – the touchingness of the ending because we’d played around with it and because we’ve been brave. I’ve seen too many Shakespeare productions where you get to the end and think please hurry up and die (laugh)!

Andy: (laughing) Yeah – GET OOON WITH IT!

So, second to last question and I’m guessing as an outdoor company you’ll have a good answer – do you have a really good ‘the show must go on’ story?

Slightly indulgent laughter here, swiftly followed by:

Elli: Wow, we’ve got some –

Andy: – Well I can’t tell you the Harlow Carr story

Elli: It’s horrendous…

Andy: It is…

Elli: Our daughter’s looking at us now like ‘DON’T TELL IT!’

Well you can just tell me and I won’t publish it? And reader, they did… And as a lass of my word, I shan’t publish the details but perhaps one day Andy will share all…perhaps a lovely bit of fundraising fodder there??

Elli: So the one we can tell…

Andy: But the one I was thinking of –

Elli: The one in Ilford when all the lights went down?

Andy: That was Harrogate! I don’t know if you were there – it was the first night of Macbeth where there was a power cut just before the interval –

It’s ringing a bell – I remember thinking along the lines of THANK GOD they’re good with their projection!

Andy: We discovered it was a power cut – we thought it was a blown fuse or a tripped switch and then we discovered no… it’s out over a wide area and so the second half of Macbeth with the music was all acapella unamplified and, singing Bat Out of Hell at the end was…was… tough! But on the same tour, there was another moment in Bat Out of Hell at the end, when his heart is cut out by Macduff, and I had the heart in my hand while I’m singing the last few lines and at the line ‘like a bat out of hell’, I threw the heart. And the heart flew up and it landed on the top level, bounced up, came back down, and landed in my hand ON THE BEAT. And that was a magic moment. Trying to recreate that was interesting (laughs).

Did you ever try to recreate it?

Andy: Yeah of course – every night! There was a time on The Comedy of Errors – I wasn’t there on this show – that was finished in the bar at the Midlands Arts Centre because the rain was so bad people were leaving. By the end the actors were saying ‘this is crazy, you can’t hear what we’re saying, we’ll go and do the last scene in the bar!’

I mean, you cut your teeth in a company like this, don’t you?

Andy: You do. And that’s why the community’s important, because they’ve often been through experiences that just bond us.

I can’t believe how lucky I’ve been really – it’s never rained on me and I think I’ve done three or four now.

Andy: (big knowing laugh) – You should come to EVERY show from now on.

I don’t know… I’m quite nesh!

So final question! The Comedy of Errors is next – we don’t know when exactly but (crossing fingers)– are you going to give me any hints about a possible angle/ spin?

Andy: Time has moved so quickly… We’re doing a Steam Punk version again as a style because it’s quite stylish, and we didn’t want to get into the whole Ephesus and Syracuse specifics because the last production we did of that, we wore feathers and things like that, and just – y’know, [we’ve] done that. So we are being a bit more generic. But there was an idea to have a sort of Brexit Land/ Non-Brexit Land – and now that is almost gone! Who talks about it now? It’s sort of old times, so when we do it, we will sort of look at the new order. Face masks will come into it – because it’s sort of what can you take from the crisis as a sort of social comment that isn’t you know, too near or offensive but is recognisable? I’d say face masks is one thing we could take from this that people would recognise. I mean, even if it’s just a moment that happens –

Elli: – because essentially the story is about strangers –

Andy: – In a strange land –

Elli: – and fear. Fear of each other.

How timely can you be eh? Thirty years and still on the pulse step for step.

Andy: Well it’s true. Adapting and being adaptable is our strength.

Evidently! Well I can’t wait to see you back and I’ll be there with everyone.

Andy: Well the choice we’ve got at the moment is whether – because bookings have been trimmed and a lot of people have said do The Comedy of Errors next year – is whether we’ll do THCOE this year, if there is a this year, or whether we’ll do another show and save TCOE for next year depending on what people want. Because we don’t know how many performances, if any, there are going to be. We’ll have to see. But we’ll keep you posted!

Well we’ll all be watching things online in the meantime and waiting patiently…

So that’s that! Now, like many and most companies, Oddsocks is in need of public support, particularly as an independent company which falls between the gaps when it comes to applying for governmental assistance. As Elli said as we finished up on this lovely Saturday morning chat: ‘We have no income now, that’s it. So we have to admit that our future’s in the balance. So if people feel they can donate, there is a Donate button people can use to donate and keep us going because that we feed through to the performers as well.’ So if you can donate, please do – that’s the way to ensure that the masses can enjoy the next 30 odd years of Oddsocks shenanigans.

For now, don’t forget to have a gander at Part I of this interview if you missed it, then pop over to the Oddsocks website to learn more about them. You can also head over to their YouTube page to enjoy their postings of previous work and their Twitter page to stay in the loop with all the latest.

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