Comedy Of Errors – April 2011

9/10

By: William Shakespeare

Directed by: Paul Hunter

Venue: RST

Date: 2nd April 2011

After such a superb Comedy at the Tobacco Factory, I was prepared for this to be much less enjoyable. The opening sequence to this version suggested this might happen, but I warmed up once the dialogue started and I could see the style of the piece – basically, a jolly romp through the play with lots of fun for young and slightly less young alike. By the end, I was as enthusiastic about the performance as anyone in the audience.

The set was industrial drab, yet again, with a square raised platform in the middle of the stage, a grubby sheet as a curtain hanging at the back, musical instruments ranged along the back of the stage in front of this curtain, and assorted electrical appliances secreted here and there – some under the stage, some along the back such as a fridge. The cast were mainly in an eclectic mix of scruffy outfits, and when they did glam up it was usually by throwing a glitzy number over the original togs, making for even more fun. Only the Antipholuses and Luciana looked remotely normal, she in a pretty summer dress and thick socks, they in matching suits and ties. The Dromios wore matching track suits and hats.

The performance started in stealth mode, with the actors strolling on, as they do, strumming guitars, chatting to the audience, strewing bits of straw all over the place (this was James Tucker – you could tell he didn’t have to clear it up afterwards). After a bit of this, the rest of the cast shoved off to the back of the stage, while the Ephesus Dromio (Dyfan Dwyfor), woke up, came out from under the platform and started to play some catchy rhythm on a toast rack. Mariah Gale snuck up behind him, grabbed the toast rack and kept the rhythm going, while the rest of the cast joined in on anything they could lay their hands on. Soon we were all clapping along with the beat. It was an energetic start to the performance, but I did start to wonder just when we going to get to the actual play.

The Duke arrived, resplendent in a fancy jacket and red tracksuit bottoms, and Egeon was taken out of the fridge to hear his doom. It was at this point that I started to get involved. Clearly, they were going for humour all round – no moving story of Egeon’s sad life here. Instead, they demonstrated in mime on the platform the story Egeon was telling the Duke, and this is where the performance really got going.

As he described how he left his wife in Syracuse and the birth of the twins, etc., these characters appeared on the platform, and acted out the story with some brilliant comic business. The first set of twins was born – Richard Katz (A/S) and James Tucker (A/E) – and to make them look identical, they each had one of those false nose, glasses and moustache sets. Given the difference in looks, this was not only a great device, it let us all have a tremendous laugh at the absurdity of it all. Then the Dromios were born – Dyfan Dwyfor (D/E) and Jonjo O’Neill (D/S) – followed by the tale of the shipwreck. This was beautifully done, with the children being tied together, a ‘rock’ breaking through and holding back the one lot while the others were dragged off stage by the stormy waves. So now we knew what they all looked like, and we’d got the laughing muscles well warmed up.

Somehow, this bit blended into a musical number, with A/E at the front of the platform giving a virtuoso (mimed) performance on the spoons, to the delight of the assembled crowd. (The actual player was Dyfan Dwyfor.) When A/E finishes, to much applause, he heads off stage to our right, the crowd waving goodbye all the while. So when A/S and his Dromio arrive to our left, the crowd do a nice double take before clearing the stage.

To save on actors, there’s no other merchant to warn A/S about the situation in Ephesus, so after he sends D/S off to their lodgings at the Centaur, he takes a (free) paper that’s conveniently being distributed right next to him and gets the news about the Syracusan merchant being condemned to death from that. Then A/S has his first encounter with D/E, and the rolled up newspaper came in very handy for a few blows. This was all very energetic, and the humour came across very well.

Next we were introduced to Adriana and Luciana, at home in their sitting room, complete with telly and a lovely picture on the wall of A/E holding his spoons (i.e. James Tucker holding a frame and the aforementioned musical implements). I felt the energy dropped a bit at this stage, but it picked up again when D/E arrived. When he was recounting the story of his meeting with the man he took to be his master, A/S stood by a microphone back left, and said his lines, with D/E mouthing them on the platform.

The next scene rattled through straightforwardly, then with A/S off to dinner with his ‘wife’, A/E appears with his cronies, and they’ve clearly been enjoying themselves. This time, there’s an actual door to knock on, right in the middle of the platform, and D/S, with help, keeps them out. In the process, A/E takes off his jacket, and when he puts it back on again, it’s inside out, and stays that way for the rest of the performance.

After they leave, A/S reappears, still wearing his napkin (which stays there till the end), and we get the bit about how the people he meets in the street keep giving him things (Act IV, scene 3). It struck me as a little odd – he’s just come from dinner and hasn’t been in the street for a while – but I put that down to me knowing the play really well by now, and let it pass. Luciana comes on to lecture A/S at this point, and in the course of wooing her he produces lots of red paper hearts and throws them everywhere. One of them landed near us, and we kept it as a souvenir. Luciana evidently kept one as well – more on that story later.

With Luciana’s exit, D/S arrives at a run, and we get a much shortened description of Nell, his ‘betrothed’, with the countries expunged. A/S sends him off to find a ship, receives the chain from Angelo, and leaves quickly while the goldsmith is still on the platform with his back turned, calculating the chain’s cost. When he turns round again, there is A/E who has just sent D/E for a rope’s end. Angelo tackles A/E for the money, and after the usual misunderstanding, the other merchant who has claims on Angelo turns up, and the whole multiple arresting process gets underway. I must say, this A/E was the most relaxed about being arrested I’ve ever seen.

Before he leaves the stage, D/S arrives to tell his master he’s found a ship that’s leaving that night. Aware of the risks, he’s taken the trouble to disguise himself in a large cardboard box – I spotted it creeping on via the gangway to our right. D/S holds it up a little to say his lines, and then someone finally takes the box off to reveal him crouched there. A/E sends him to get a purse from Adriana for his bail, and then we’re back in the sitting room, where Adriana is letting rip at her husband for trying to chat up her sister. This time, the picture of A/E responds to her ranting by pulling faces at her while her back is turned – very childish and very funny – and then D/S rushes on to get the money, and they all head off.

A/S reappears, and is met by his own Dromio this time, with the money. The courtesan (Mariah Gale in a tacky blond wig), spots him and wants her chain, which he refuses, and he and D/S leave. Her speech about Antipholus being mad, and telling his wife about him stealing her ring is followed by a song. A microphone is placed at the front of the platform and she does a raunchy little number, with the rest of the cast as her backing vocalists. All good fun.

Next came the scene with A/E meeting his wife, sister-in-law, D/E and the courtesan, and the confusions start to build, with various people swearing to different bits of different storylines. Now it all happened thick and fast. A/E and D/E are taken away, bound, and put into the fridge, A/S and D/S turn up and are chased into the abbey, represented by a pair of curtains at the back of the platform. When the Abbess comes out to deal with the crowd, she appears to have originated from one of the rougher parts of London, judging by her snarled ‘shut it’ and the like. She also missed out on a performing career to take the veil, judging by her readiness to launch into a song and dance routine at the first opportunity.

Anyway, the Duke and Egeon also turn up, the various stories are put forward, with Luciana being the one who brings the news of A/E and D/E’s escape, and finally the Syracusan branch of the family are revealed. The two Antipholuses react brilliantly to each other, taking off their glasses in slow motion and moving them towards each other (they’re both on the platform only a few feet apart).

With the mystery mostly explained, A/S turns to Luciana and makes his play for her affections, at which point she takes out the red paper heart that she’d kept and holds it open over her heart. Ahhh. This is the point where the abbess prolongs her speech long after everyone else has gone inside the abbey. The final exchanges between the pairs of brothers were fine, and then they rounded the whole thing off with more music before their much deserved applause.

All the performances were absolutely splendid, and the comic business was tremendously inventive. It’s a good job Steve and I are flexible in our approach to Shakespeare performances; it means we can get the most out of such diverse versions of the same play. I was also aware of how well this group of actors worked together, a benefit of the ensemble philosophy. Long may it continue.

© 2011 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

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