Hamlet the Comedy – Belgrade Theatre, Coventry

Reviewer: Selwyn Knight

Writer: William Shakespeare

Director: Andy Barrow

After an imposed hiatus, Oddsocks Theatre is back on its quest to make theatre, especially Shakespeare, accessible to all. But have they bitten off more than they can chew in the attempt to make Hamlet – usually considered a somewhat dour experience – into a comedy? With over thirty years’ experience of doing exactly that kind of thing, who’d bet against them?

And yes, they’ve done it again. Hamlet the Comedy is a magical combination of farce, physical theatre, silly sight gags, puppetry and, yes, the bard’s immortal prose. The set is compact and complex, with different layers, opening hatches and pull out-sections, all designed for ease of transport – among other things, Oddsocks are also faithful to the Shakespearean ethic of the strolling players, setting out their stall in a variety of locations, often outdoors and not necessarily formal theatre spaces. For the performances at the Belgrade, they have the luxury of performing indoors but the immediacy of the performances is still present, drawing one in.

The whole is a madcap romp through the script. Much is played for laughs – there are plenty of smiles and nods of recognition when it becomes clear that in his desire to be king, Claudius will do anything  – well, anything short of act with integrity and honesty. Oddsocks founder, Andy Barrow, has a whale of a time hamming up his Claudius as some sort of stuttering buffoon with an eye for the ladies. He also shows off some seriously good puppetry skills in a terrific realisation of the ghost.

The entire cast is skilled in physical theatre, not least Theo Toksvig Stewart as Hamlet. There is a real sense of peril as he climbs the set, hanging off it as he pretends madness awaiting his opportunity to take revenge on Claudius. Toksvig Stewart does bring a childlike gravity and truth to Hamlet even in the farcical madness scenes and manages to make the well-known soliloquies, including To Be or Not To Be feel new as they are delivered with sincerity. In addition, the fight scene between Hamlet and Laertes (Jack Herauville) at Ophelia’s graveside is supremely well choreographed. Ophelia’s descent into madness at the hands of Hamlet is demonstrated well by Amber Lickerish, who also revels in a role as a crazed-looking priest. The other Oddsocks cofounder, Elli Mackenzie brings us Gertrude and Horatio providing solid backup to the humour generated by Barrow’s direction.

Hamlet the Comedy could only be an Oddsocks production, bearing all of its hallmarks and being a thoroughly enjoyable night out. Once again, they’ve succeeded in making Shakespeare accessible without taking too many liberties. Many times the beauty and cadence of the bard’s lines ring out even amidst the comedic clamour:  one can’t help feeling that this is just how contemporaneous productions of Shakespeare would have looked and that he would approve of Oddsocks’ interpretation.

Runs Until 16 June 2022 and on tour

The Reviews Hub Score

Farcical Fun

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The Reviews Hub - Central

The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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