This telly talks back

Last weekend, when I was visiting Guernsey, my friend got us some tickets to see A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Castle Cornet. The open air production was by Oddsocks, a small but well-established theatre company, who this year are marking their 25th anniversary. I’ve somehow managed to miss Oddsocks up till now, but will definitely be looking out for them in the future; they’re brilliant.

Oddsocks - A Midsummer Night's Dream

Because Oddsocks are anything but a traditional theatre company, I’ve decided not to write them a traditional review. So here instead are my top tips for watching an Oddsocks performance. I hope I’ll have many opportunities to add to these at future shows.

1. Don’t be late

Anyone hoping to sneak in after the show had got underway was out of luck; not only were stragglers spotted, but the whole show stopped so everyone could watch them clamber over people to get to their seats. The same goes for the interval – if you’re last in line for coffee, it’s probably a good idea to go without and leg it back to your seat quick so that you’re not last to arrive. And don’t even think about leaving halfway through. Not only is it a bit rude, but you’ll probably find yourself getting heckled by the actors.

2. Be ready for audience participation

If you like to go to the theatre, sit in the dark and just watch, Oddsocks are probably not for you. At any given moment, you should expect to find one of the actors sitting next to you eating your picnic, to join in shouting a character’s name every time he arrives on stage, or even to be dragged up there yourself to play the small but vital role of a wall. If you’re not quite sure about all this, I’d get seats near the back – you should be safe there.

3. Bring extra food

Or don’t bring anything you wouldn’t be willing to part with. The actors will help themselves.

4. Expect a bit of naughtiness

Sometimes subtle, sometimes not so much. A Midsummer Night’s Dream, being a story about lovers running around in the woods, and featuring a character called Bottom, offers up plenty of opportunities for innuendo – but I got the feeling Oddsocks would manage to find it in pretty much anything. It’s very much two-level humour; there’s lots for children to enjoy but also quite a bit that will go over their heads (which is probably a good thing).

5. Remember where you are

Oddsocks don’t really stick to the script. In fact, the script is really more of a guide than anything. They’ve built in their own jokes (the one about Michael Gove was particularly popular with my teacher friend) but they also react to anything that happens on the night. So if you forget you’re at the theatre and cause a disturbance, whether it’s deliberate or not, don’t expect it to go unnoticed. ‘This telly talks back’ was possibly my favourite line of the night.

6. Be prepared to laugh till you cry

As chance would have it, I’ve seen three productions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the last year. All of them have been brilliant in different ways, but this was definitely the funniest. I don’t think I stopped laughing from the moment the play started, and by the end my face actually hurt. The actors seemed to be making each other laugh just as much as the audience, and the whole evening had a slightly manic feel to it – but in a good way. It’s been several days and I still get the giggles every time I picture Snug the joiner trying to get his roar right.

7. Get ready for a new catchphrase

‘… Invisible!’ I don’t know how to explain this; you probably had to be there. But suffice to say we all spent the rest of the weekend shouting it at each other, and then laughing like idiots.

8. Be willing to overlook a few things

Because there’s only six actors in the Oddsocks cast, quite a lot of doubling up of roles was required. Nowhere was this more obvious than with the actress playing both Hermia and Puck, who unfortunately sometimes need to be on stage at the same time. This meant some quite creative uses of a blonde wig, which were blatantly obvious to anyone watching. Instead of trying to cover it up, the cast made a joke out of it, and somehow everything worked out ok.

9. Don’t worry if you don’t understand everything

Let’s be honest, sometimes Shakespeare wrote things a bit funny, and there are going to be times when you don’t quite know what he was getting at. But that’s ok, because at particularly tricky moments, the Oddsocks actors will break character to give a quick translation. Such as this from Demetrius: ‘I’m sad, I’m sorry, and I’m going for a sleep. Ok?’ Problem solved.

10. Enjoy

In case I haven’t made it clear, I LOVED watching Oddsocks, and was very jealous of my friend, who got to go and see them again yesterday in Twelfth Night. It was pure entertainment from the moment they appeared on stage, and I can’t recommend them enough. And if you’re not a fan of Shakespeare, don’t worry – they do other stuff too; past performances have included everything from Robin Hood to Les Mis (I’d love to see what they did with that).

Roll on the next time. I’ll be there, with extra cake. Just in case.

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