Review: Shakespeare meets panto on Coventry stage in A Midsummer Night's dream

'Oddsocks have a well-deserved reputation for brilliant comedy'
'Oddsocks have a well-deserved reputation for brilliant comedy'

Nick Le Mesurier reviews A Midsummer Night’s Dream, at the Belgrade Theatre, Coventry

If we think we know anything about Shakespeare’s comedies it’s that they’re not very funny. But Oddsocks’ new production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, at the Belgrade Theatre for an all too short run until June 20, turns that notion on its head. This is a full on, laugh-a-minute production that does no harm to Shakespeare’s marvellous language.

We know the story: four young lovers run away to the woods to indulge their passions out of sight of the parents. There they find themselves at the mercy of the woodland folk, led by warring duo Oberon (Andy Barrow) and Hippolyta (Asha Cornelia-Cluer). There follows a lot of confusion as the fairies’ meddling sprite Puck (Alice Merrivale) squirts love juice in the wrong eyes. There are the marvellous rude mechanicals, too, here played as builders adapting Theseus’s palace, who liven up the forest capers with their own version of a play within a play.

Oddsocks have a well-deserved reputation for brilliant comedy, and in this their 30th anniversary tour it is on full display. The six actors (plus one lucky member of the audience) play all the parts and all the musical instruments too. The slapstick style, wacky costumes, exaggerated gestures and audience interactions make this a kind of pantomime for all ages.

Standout characters include a very large Bottom, played by actor director Andy Barrow, as a builder with a huge gut and backside to match. He also plays Oberon as a friendly satyr, equipped one might say, in every aspect save the visible appendage. Puck whizzes around like a demented blow fly, and the chaps Demetrius (Alex Wadham) and Lysander (Peter Hoggart) are full of manly bravado.

Oddsocks pull off the difficult feat of creating a family friendly show that will satisfy Shakespeare enthusiasts as much as it does those coming to the Bard for the first time. It’s one of the last shows at the Belgrade till the autumn, which will be undergoing a huge restoration that promises to liven up what is already one of the best provincial theatres in the country. My only criticism of this hilarious show is that it is here for all too short a time. Catch it here or elsewhere on tour if you can.

* Visit www.oddsocks.co.uk/tours for details of future dates.