Hamlet – a comedy – you have to be joking! Hamlet is one of Shakespeare’s most well know and well quoted tragedies. You couldn’t possibly make a comedy out of it.
Those were my thoughts when I was first invited to come and see this production. Well was I wrong! I went along with hopefully an open mind but not quite sure what would happen. I love Shakespeare, and I have to confess that I was a little nervous regarding this production. I came away after 2 hours having passed a wonderful evening, having laughed most of the way through it, and having watched even quite young children being enthralled by the production.
The play is performed at the QEH Theatre in Bristol – a modern building with a 3-sided auditorium and seating approximately 200 people. It is just the right venue for this play.
Oddsocks was formed in 1989 by husband and wife Andy Barrow and Elli Mackenzie who met at the Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art. They used their classical acting skills and combined this with clowning techniques gained whilst working with The National Street Theatre and writing skills honed by working with The Marcher Lords Historical Promotions Unit.
Oddsocks “take epic classic texts and adapt them into heart-warming, humorous, vibrant and feel-good theatre performances for all the family. The works of Shakespeare, Dickens, The Brontes, Robert Louis Stephenson, Victor Hugo and many more have all been "Oddsocked" to great effect since 1989”. They admit to being “irreverent but respectful to the text, slapstick but skillful, funny but full of truth, clever but accessible”.
Hamlet! The acting is excellent – all the of the parts played by just 6 actors – Elli Mackenzie, plays Gertrude and Horatio, while Andrew McGillan works hard playing Laertes, Polonius and Rosencrantz, whilst also directing the production. Kevin Kemp’s Hamlet is a clown, and shows us the mental turmoil, the grief and – yes – the comedy in the part.
Bethan Nash as Ophelia is brilliant, starting out as a rather highly strung aide to the Queen and slowly losing her mind as the tragic events unfold. She doubles also as Guildenstern, Osric and the Priest.
Robert Laughlin as Claudius, and the ghost of Hamlet (a hologram performance by Paul Daniels complete the line-up. An ingenious set, consisting of just 3 large, easy moving pieces, whizz around the stage to form completely new sets. Fascinating to watch, and expertly done by the performers without any loss of characterization.
Many of the well-known soliloquies are set to music - not as you might expect - the music of Elizabethan times - but modern rock music accompanied by electric guitar. I have to say it works very well – sometimes these long speeches can become “boring” especially for the young members of the audience but putting music with them brings them to life and holds the audience’s attention.
All in all a wonderful evenings entertainment – if you are a purist don’t go to see this as you probably won’t enjoy it, but if you are open minded and enjoy a new experience grab any opportunity you get to see it!
As a footnote, even though I laughed most of the way through the play, I was left with a tear in the eye at the end – well done!