oddsocks man

Dream lovers - order to be decided by Puck . . , Asha Cornelia Cleur as Helena, Alice Merivale as Hermia, Peter Hoggart as Lysander and Alex Wadham as Demetrius

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

mac, Birmingham


With a Puck who looks like a Biggles love child, a Bottom with a builder’s bum where you could park a steam roller and an Oberon who looks like a cross between a mountain goat and Arnold Schwarzenegger, Oddsocks give us a dream of production of Shakespeare’s comedy of everyday fairy folk.

They turn the bard into knockabout farce, laugh a minute fun, with audience participation, asides, ad libs, ad liberties even, and all manner of mayhem . . . and why not?

This was the popular entertainment of its day and Oddsocks are keeping it that way - nothing high brow, just bringing Shakespeare back to where it started.- brilliant and clever entertainment for the masses.

We have a tendency to get a little precious about Shakespeare at times, after all he is one of, if not the greatest playwright of all time and he is ours, so, quite rightly, we protect him, sometimes overly so.

There is tut tutting from purists at Shakespeare in modern dress, conveniently forgetting that when Bill was knocking his  plays out for his company, The Lord Chamberlain’s Men, at The Globe, they were all in modern dress, flamboyant versions of everyday Elizabethan fashion through a legal loophole allowing actors to dress in clothes and colours above their class.

And in Shakespeare’s time audiences, packed in up to 3,000 at a time, were more akin to football crowds than the polite, gentile bastions of decorum that flock to the likes of Stratford.

In the late 1500s the wealthy, seated on cushions in their elevated balconies, would cheer for the aristocrats, mocking the peasantry below, while the commoners, the stinkards, a name that says much for Elizabethan personal hygiene, would cram into the theatre standing in front of the stage booing, cheering for the lower orders, heckling and, if unhappy, lobbing assorted veg at the cast.

They had dropped their penny admission in the box at the entrance, origin of the term box office incidentally, and were out to get their money’s worth.

All of which means that Oddsocks' versions of the bard are perhaps closer to performances in Shakespeare’s time than the admirable classical performances from the likes of Gielgud, Olivier and Branagh.

socks at the mac

Curtain call and a well deserved standing ovation as dusk falls at the mac

Thankfully there is room for both schools of theatre and Oddsocks retain the essence, and script, of the play with a few songs, asides and laughs thrown in. It is easy to forget that Shakespeare’s scripts were bawdy affairs with plenty of innuendo and sexual comments wrapped up in Elizabethan language that now sounds merely quaint and charming to us, but which Bill’s audiences well understood and lapped up. Oddsocks do their bit to redress that balance.

The cast of six wander around chatting to the audience before the start and again in the interval – although this seems to also be an excuse to be fed, with any sweets, cakes, chips etc gratefully accepted.

In a play with supposedly 22 parts, some doubling up is needed, which requires some quick changes particularly from Andy Barrow who has to don belly and bum as a north country Bottom as well as cloven hooved hairy pants and six pack chest and wig as Oberon, King of the Fairies, when he was not invisible, that is, which was when he was visible (you needed to be told which one he was, as invisible was the same as visible, i.e. you could still see him, but the cast couldn't . . it’s complicated) and then he arrived in a uniform as Egeus, grumpy father of Hermia.

In his spare time he also directed the play and did some of the writing – although, to be honest, Shakespeare did most of it, especially the funny bits.

Speaking of directors, Christopher Smart is Peter Quince, the rather studious director of the rude mechanicals play, Pyramus and Thisbe, as well as prancing about in tights as fairy Peaseblossom, who along with fellow fairies Mustardseed and Cobweb seem to speak fluent Teletubby and move like Parker from Thunderbirds. He also rules the roost as Theseus, Duke of Athens.

Staying with the upper classes Australian Asha Cornelia Cluer gives us Titania, Oberon’s Queen and also Hippoltya, Queen of the Amazons, who is due to marry Theseus, with presumably next day delivery with Prime, She is also a commoner, an up market one mind, as Helena, an Athenian lady who has the hots for Demetrius.

Alice Merivale is busy little bee in her flying helmet as Puck and, unusual in this play, an almost normal person in Hermia, who is in love with Peter Hoggart’s Lysander, with Hoggart adding Mustardseed and Rude Mechanical Snug to the mix.

Finally, Alex Wadham is a rather yuppie Demetrius, who is avoiding Helena like the plague, is in love with Hermia, who is not in the least bit interested, but it is all going to get sorted out by Puck before we get to the everybody living happily ever after bit at the end. He also joins the Rude Mechanicals as Flute, with a nice turn in drag as Thisbe, and prances, slowly, around as fairy Cobweb.

And let’s not forget Craig, dragged from the audience to play Wall in play within a play Pyramus and Thisbe.

It is all glorious fun, Shakespeare played for laughs, as it would have been at its premiere around 1596. Heckling was encouraged, cast mingled with audience, anyone arriving late or going to the toilet became part, unwittingly, of the performance, asides abounded, visual jokes were everywhere, songs popped up from nowhere, yet through it all, all the mayhem, the jokes, the liberties, the laughs, like a thread through a seam, ran Shakespeare’s delightful, witty and very funny comedy, one of his most popular and most performed plays.

Shakespeare, too often, is seen as old fashioned and boring. Oddsocks brings it to glorious life. It might not please dyed in the wool purists but it certainly makes it accessible to all, perhaps even sparking an interest in more works of the bard.

Suitable for any age it is all done with an obvious knowledge, understanding and above all,  warm affection for Shakespeare. Beautifully acted, with superb timing and quick wit, it is just a delight to watch.

The open air theatre at the mac, an amphitheatre, is much the same layout as The Globe, and with the clever, simple set, rapid scene and costume changes' knockabout comedy and actors playing to the audience, Shakespeare would have been quite at home . . . and I suspect he would have loved it.

Roger Clarke


If you love Shakespeare or a laugh, or even better, both, then you click here for Oddsocks’ venues and dates. 

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