The Comedy Of Errors – December 2011

8/10

By William Shakespeare

Directed by Dominic Cooke

Venue: Olivier Theatre

Date: Tuesday 20th December 2011

I liked the liveliness of this production, and the contemporary London setting was effective too, especially in the chase sequence. I felt the cumbersome nature of the set slowed things down a bit at times, but overall it was a really enjoyable production with some good performances.

The opening scene was set in a disused warehouse, with lots of balconies, windows and stairs, very effective when they were miming the shipwreck in Egeon’s story, although this was one of the times when the set did slow things down. At first it looked like Egeon was being mugged, with the Duke’s men taking his money, and I suspect they kept a fair bit for themselves before they handed the rest over to the Duke – that’s how he can estimate Egeon’s resources so accurately. When the Duke turned up he wasn’t friendly, but once he’d heard Egeon’s story he was kinder to the man.

The scene changes were covered by a street band singing familiar songs in a foreign language – couldn’t tell you which ones, though a couple of the tunes were familiar. For the next scene, the buildings rotated to reveal street cafes with metal tables and chairs in amongst office buildings – London, in effect. There were several other people at the café, and when Antipholus of Syracuse beat up Dromio of Ephesus he also caused mayhem with the food and drink on the tables.

The next scene was at the Phoenix, an ultra modern housing development nestled between two older buildings. Adriana and Luciana were on the first floor balcony, and Dromio of Ephesus spoke to them from the ground level, hiding under the overhang to swig from a bottle. This setting restricted the women’s movements, and I felt it held the scene back a little, certainly from our perspective, being close in. It may have worked better for people further back.

The following scene was set in a snooker hall, where Dromio of Syracuse found his Antipholus playing at one of the tables. Dromio got into trouble, yet again, for not knowing about his twin’s visit to this Antipholus, and Antipholus made good use of the snooker cue to give him a beating. This done, and some sense of jesting restored, we saw the two women walking past the snooker hall window. When they saw Antipholus, they came in, drawing the attention of the other men in the place, with several lewd looks and a whistle or two. Adriana was very seductive in her complaint to Antipholus, and there was the usual laugh at Antipholus’s amazed comment “To me she speaks”.

Antipholus and Dromio went along with the women’s mistake, and soon arrived at the Phoenix. They all went up in the lift (only just squeezed in) and shortly afterwards Antipholus of Ephesus entered with his two companions and his Dromio. As I recall, while they were going through their discussion of welcome versus food, we got to see Luce herself tidying up on the balcony. The banter between the Dromios was largely conducted over the speaker phone; once Antipholus of Ephesus joined in, the argument became even rowdier, and when Adriana joined in, she stepped out of the upper room, clad only in a bedsheet! Lunch was a short meal that day.

Once the Ephesian pair have left, Luciana and Antipholus of Syracuse have their scene downstairs, coming out of the building. Dromio joined his Antipholus there, running away from the kitchen maid. His descriptions of her were pretty funny, though not the best I’ve seen, and then Antipholus sent him to the harbour to find a ship leaving that very night. The goldsmith then turned up and gave him the gold chain, after which they took the interval.

The second half started with the Porcupine on the right and a jeweller’s on the left. Antipholus of Ephesus was soon arrested – the goldsmith handed even more cash to the officer than the merchant, so the officer kindly gave the merchant his money back – and the wrong Dromio was sent to get the money from Adriana. This time, however, we were inside the building, and Luciana and Adriana were wheeled onto the stage front and centre. Adriana was lying face down on a massage table (in theory) and Luciana was sitting in a chair having her nails done. Luciana’s expressions were very good here, showing her sympathy for her sister at her (presumed) husband’s abuse, then concern about telling her of said (presumed) husband’s proposal, then self-satisfaction as she recounted the ways in which she had been praised.

Adriana was lying on the table for the first half of this; she kept lifting her head up so she could question or complain, and her masseur kept putting her head back down in the slot, which got some laughs. When Luciana got to the proposal, it was too much for Adriana, and she got up. The masseur held her robe for her, so she was fairly decent by the time Dromio of Syracuse ran in, out of breath. With Dromio despatched carrying the money, Luciana wheeled off her chair, and after another few lines Adriana left with her table.

I think this was the point where there was a knife shop on the left and an empty one on the right, and this was the setup for the chase sequence. The empty building on the right soon had a woman posing in the window, and was revealed as a knocking shop; the courtesan came out of here to accost Antipholus of Syracuse about the chain he’d promised her, and a group of these women ganged up on the hapless visitors. After their departure, and the courtesan’s decision to visit Antipholus’s wife (troublemaker!), Antipholus of Ephesus and the officer came on for the encounter with Dromio of Ephesus. This was followed by the arrival of Adriana and a small entourage, including Pinch. This was a better version of Pinch than some, a modern dress charlatan, and when he was trying to take Antipholus away, a small ambulance van came on stage, and a remarkable number of medical staff came out of it! This led to the chase sequence, and here we had lots of medical folk running around, not quite Keystone cops, but almost that level. One of the team tried to put a straightjacket on someone in the audience, presumably because he/she was wearing a red top, vaguely like the Dromios’ Arsenal strip.

With the two men caught at last, and taken away for their recovery, the other Antipholus and Dromio crept out of the knife shop, carrying some very large kitchen knives. There was another confrontation or two, and finally they were chased into the Abbey, in this case the Abbey Clinic, an imposing looking building with a nameplate and letters above the door. The Abbess, who ran the clinic, was very definite that no one would be entering her clinic to take the men away.

When Luciana suggested an appeal to the Duke, Adriana got her iPhone out, and was scrolling through her contacts for the Duke’s number. She didn’t need to call him, though, as he turned up himself for Egeon’s execution a few moments later. The rest of the story was staged very nicely, and I sniffled a bit, as I usually do – I like happy endings. I also love the way this family, separated for years, take so long to realise what’s going on.

We enjoyed this production very much. The two pairs of twins were well cast to match each other, although the Dromios’ frizz wigs and some padding under the clothes helped a lot too. Mind you, they needed the padding to take the sting out the many beatings they got. The Ephesus pair talked with London accents, while the Syracusans had strong African accents – this really helped to differentiate them, and was a good reminder that the Syracusans were strangers in a dangerous city. I did find Adriana a bit muted compared to the usual interpretation, which was a surprise, but other than that the cast did a great job. I felt they could have done more with Egeon – they did have people walking through the set during scene changes, as well as the band – but it’s a very minor quibble when the performance as a whole was such great fun.

© 2011 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

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