Last summer, I was in Guernsey visiting a friend, and she took me along to an outdoor production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the appropriately magical setting of the historic Castle Cornet. The theatre company, Oddsocks, were new to me, but two things soon became clear – they’re brilliant, and they’re completely bonkers. Fortunately, when it comes to theatre, this is my favourite combination.
So when I arranged to visit Guernsey again last weekend, and my friend told me Oddsocks were back, I jumped at the chance to see what they’d made of Twelfth Night. I was fairly confident that the play’s love triangles, gender bending, mischievous pranks and general air of confusion would offer plenty of opportunities for mayhem – and I wasn’t disappointed. Despite the weather, which was dismal to say the least, a great night was had by all; Oddsocks productions go on come rain or shine, and it’s a testament to how enjoyable they are that nobody got up and left when the heavens opened in act 2.
Once again, the company’s take on the Bard’s work is fresh, unique and very, very funny. I never would have thought that I’d see two Shakespearean characters singing Let’s Get Ready to Rhumble… but now I can cross that particular goal off my bucket list. Because this is the Britpop musical version of Twelfth Night, and if you think that sounds mad – well, it is. But that doesn’t mean it’s not all kinds of amazing. Fans who enjoy conventional Shakespeare may object to Duke Orsino’s ‘if music be the food of love’ speech being replaced by Roxy Music; then again, those people are unlikely to be found at an Oddsocks play – or at least, not for long. (But do be prepared for the cast to heckle you on the way out.)
Led by director, and born showman, Andy Barrow, the cast basically just get up on stage and have a good time, dealing with whatever happens to come their way, whether or not it’s in the script. I particularly enjoyed the drunken antics of Sirs Toby Belch and Andrew Aguecheek (Kevin Kemp and Gavin Harrison), who spend much of their time giggling and falling over, and at one point wander into the audience in search of booze. And I may never be able to forget Malvolio (Andy Barrow) and his yellow stockings – for all the wrong reasons.
It’s all so chaotic that at times it’s hard to tell what’s planned, and what’s been made up on the spot (although I’m pretty sure the pause to fix their dangerously sagging roof with a mop was a one-off). In fact, the whole production plays pretty fast and loose with Shakespeare’s original text, but given that the audience are all having such a great time, I’m going to bet he’d be willing to forgive that.
If I had to sum up an Oddsocks production, I’d probably describe it as ‘Shakespeare does panto’. You’ve got music, slapstick, audience participation (where else can you get up on stage and throw wet sponges at one of the actors?), a few pointed references to current affairs, and even a girl dressed as a boy. The only difference, really, is it’s way better than any panto I’ve ever been to.
Unfortunately the Oddsocks tours don’t tend to take in Kent or London, but they do seem to have become something of a fixture in Guernsey. So I guess I’ll be forced to head back that way next summer and do it all over again… It’s a tough old life.