A review by Richard J Thornton for EXTRA! EXTRA!

 

 

Oddsocks present

 

 

Hamlet: The Comedy

 

 
 

Written by William Shakespeare

 

Adapted and directed by Andrew Barrow

 

Jackson's Lane Theatre

 

28 Feb – 5 March 2011

 

There's nothing better than going to see a comedy and being entertained before the show even begins. Stand-ups have comperes to warm the crowd, so why don't plays? Well now they do. The fact that the ensemble cast are not-so-mindlessly running around in the stalls while the audience take their seats sets a frivolous and casual tone. A tone perfect for a show which playfully carves up Shakespeare into bite-sized chunks of slapstick, innuendo and mock-musical extravaganza. The play's the thing – or is it?

In this farcical exploration of the Shakespearean classic, Oddsocks have cleverly stripped back the script without mutilation. Sure, there's the odd addition of a one-liner to score a punch-line, but the speeches are still Shakespeare's, and the comedy's in there. Andy Barrow's vision of a Hamlet who's not just lost a father but a tutor in circus and magic, feels a natural starting point for a play where the bereaved Dane deals with his grief though a very entertaining madness. From melancholic juggling and rock anthem soliloquies, to the comic simplicity of wearing a red nose, Kevin Kemp's Hamlet never fails to play the fool as well as the avenger. It's clear from his performance (and his programme credentials) that Kemp is comfortable with Shakespeare, and the ease with which he commands the script leaves no obstruction to the comedy he draws from it.

But this is an ensemble piece, and the limelight by no means falls only on the eponymous. Elli Mackenzie's stalwart embodiment of both Gertrude and Horatio provides a sublimely confident anchor for the younger actors to play with; she holds her comic nous an inch further from the audience with her subtlety, but those who seek it are greatly rewarded by her precision. Robert Laughlin's ever-grinning, ever-twitching Claudius also provides a steely gravity around which the excited and bombastic Bethan Nash can manically orbit in her numerous and well-defined supporting roles. But Andrew McGillan seems to have the toughest job, juggling both father and son as Polonius and Laertes, two of the most memorable characters on stage, and ones squeezed between McGillan's other commitment of ballerina acrobatics in the famous play within a play scene.

The set is both a wonder and a burden, being both a cumbersome unwritten character and a playground for magic. It's a Rubix cube of white walls and staircases, all made mobile through wheeled undersides and buckets of the actors' elbow grease. It's exciting, intriguing and largely successful, but there are moments when the plot is lost to the dramatized grunts of the 'off-stage' actors-cum-stage hands, and it transmits an exhaustion which infects even the most fervent audience member. The red and white colour scheme is a youthful touch, but the gaudy red chairs disrupt the aesthetic balance and become more burdensome than functionary.

You couldn't review this show without a comment on the illustrious cameo from Paul Daniels as the Ghost. It's a fine line between marketing ploy and genuine theatrical fun, and I'm sure Elli Mackenzie as both producer and actor would defend the move on both fronts. Nevertheless, the scene is entertaining, if not a touch too laboured when juxtaposed to the humility of the rest of the show.

It's a skillful move to bring the slapstick into Shakespeare without slapping the bard disgracefully across his distinguished canon-fed chops – and it's a funny one too. For laugh out loud splutter, Oddsocks' Hamlet will be hard to beat, and if you want to see a stuffed-toy-spirit present a red nose to a grieving Hamlet while riding a remote controlled rally-car, this will probably be the only chance you'll ever get.

 

 

Box Office: www.jacksonslane.org.uk  / 020 8341 4421
Jacksons Lane Theatre
Archway Road, Highgate,
London N6 5AA.
Mon 28 Feb - Sat 5 March 2011, 7.30pm
Tickets: £15 (adult)  £10 (concession)
 

 



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