By William Shakespeare
Directed by Elizabeth Freestone
Company: Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama
Venue: Swan Theatre
Date: Wednesday 13th September 2006
This was a very good production, with excellent staging and a well-edited text. The performance began with all the cast coming on stage in two files, with the Duke and a blindfolded Egeon at the back. The rest of the cast formed up in two rows at the front of the stage, and all were carrying rifles. They turned, raised the rifles, and knelt down, preparing to fire. The Duke, at the last minute, asks Egeon for his story (removing the blindfold as he does so), and as he tells it, the firing squad get so caught up that they gradually lower their rifles, and just listen. Egeon’s tale, though edited, still covers the salient points, and but for the rampant coughing from the audience, would have been very moving. Incidentally, to make ends meet on this long quest, Egeon has apparently taken painting and decorating jobs – his sleeves and the bottoms of his trousers were covered in white paint.
I really enjoyed this opening sequence. The firing squad gave it immediacy, a real sense of danger. The Duke, while chatting to Egeon, is perilously close to getting shot himself – just one twitchy trigger finger… This staging emphasises the Duke’s clemency, giving Egeon till sunset to find some way of paying the fine.
As the various characters leave, one soldier remains, and becomes Antipholus of Syracuse (A/S). Slinging his rifle over his shoulder, he sends Dromio off to the Centaur, and both he and Dromio share any relevant lines of the missing merchant.
A/S’s opening soliloquy, “He that commands me to mine own content…”, was very well done. The gestures used were moving, and repeated at the end to close the piece (although this could probably have been dropped, as the audience were ready to applaud as soon as the Dromios left the stage). I got a sense of someone who’d been searching so long and so desperately that he no longer expected to find what he was seeking – which explains why neither he nor his Dromio twig what’s going on.
Dromio of Syracuse (D/S) then returns, and the real comic business begins. Good comic timing from both sets of twins made this very enjoyable. When Adriana first arrives and addresses A/S as her husband, his look of amazement was a joy to behold. D/S just pats him on the shoulder as if to say ‘you’re on your own, mate’, and sits out most of the discussion. Adriana is, as usual, pretty intimate with the man she believes to be her husband. On the line “Am I in earth, in heaven or in hell” A/S indicates Dromio, Luciana and Adriana in turn.
The set: it’s still the Much Ado set, but without the rubble all over the floor. White cloth at the back, various pallets arranged round the stage, higher at the back. Back left, on an angle, sat a chest (holds the money Adriana gives D/S to redeem her husband), and one pallet came half-way across the front, and doubled as a door for both Antipholus’s house and the abbey. Part of the pallet hinged up, and was held in place by a rope. The costumes were all various shades of blue, with a tie-dye/ washed out effect. Both Dromios had bright blue hair, and the women wore underskirt hoops on the top of normal skirts – why?
The advantage of having two sets of twins (instead of doubling) is that the scenes they’re both in are easier to do. When Antipholus of Ephesus (A/E) arrives home for lunch, it becomes very clear he’s got a temper, and a pretty violent one at that. With the pallet-door, there are lots of gaps, through which guns, bars, etc. are thrust, giving D/S plenty of opportunity for ducking and diving.
The wooing scene after lunch was well-edited, and we got D/S’s descriptions of his (un)intended in full, but at a fair lick. D/S arrived for this scene at full tilt, with his trousers round his knees – evidently the kitchen wench doesn’t mean to wait till the wedding night for a piece of her betrothed! Next there’s a lovely piece of action with the goldsmith and the chain. When A/S, on receiving the chain, urges the goldsmith to take his money now, in case he never gets it, the goldsmith takes out his pocket book, thumbs to the right page, and starts to work out how much he’s owed. This takes a short while. In the meantime, A/S has said his lines and leaves to find D/S. The merchant, just missing him as he leaves, turns and sees A/E walking towards him from a different direction. Without batting an eye (they must be used to this sort of stuff in Ephesus), the goldsmith immediately tells A/E how much the chain costs, and then the confusion tumbles on through the arrival of a merchant (Balthazar) and the officer, so that A/E is bound and carted off before he knows what’s happening. Sending D/E off to get a rope’s end has been squeezed in here – normally it’s at the beginning of A/E’s entrance – but overall it’s a lovely piece of editing and staging.
D/S comes back to tell him there’s a ship about to leave, and stands bemused by what’s going on – not the scene he expected. He takes his time before heading back to Adriana, reluctant to see his fiancée again. After D/S gets the money, we see A/S even more bewildered – people are greeting him, giving him things, measuring him up for a suit, and still he doesn’t twig. He and D/S become even more panic-stricken when the courtesan arrives, and demands the chain she’s been promised. Off they flee, so that A/E can come on again to be suitably angry with D/E, who’s returned with the rope. Lots of physical stuff now, as the officer has to forcibly restrain A/E from attacking D/E. They really did throw themselves around, this lot.
More good editing – no Pinch to contend with. Luciana speaks any of his lines that are needed, and has some great business in the process. As A/E is seriously agitated by this time, the officer has him at gunpoint. As Luciana goes towards him, he makes to lunge at her, and she steps back, shoves the officer out of the way, and grabs his gun. After brandishing it rather wildly (everybody ducks as she swings it round), they get A/E and D/E tied up, and march them off to Adriana’s. The officer’s line “He is my prisoner…” was delivered very well, showing the officer’s nervousness.
From here, it’s pretty straightforward to the end, and all the reunions. At the very end, after the Dromios have left the stage, A/S re-enters, and stands, repeating the gesture with his hands that marked one drop of water seeking another in the ocean. Nicely done, but as I said before, this could probably be dropped.
The trouble with trying to describe such a lively and inventive production is that the description always falls far short. Much of the humour was in the business and in the reading of the lines. I would happily see this one again.
© 2006 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me