By William Shakespeare
Directed by Amir Nizar Zuabi
Date: Wednesday 25th July 2012
There were a number of differences between tonight and the first time we saw the production, and all for the better. The stage was less cluttered, although the shiny black ‘water’ in the corner, with all the bits of rubbish ‘floating’ in it, had been replaced by real water – oo-er (glad we weren’t sitting over on that side tonight). The band seemed to walk across the stage much less tonight – I certainly don’t remember them in the red tracksuits – and there were some other cuts as well, with a few additions. Overall the dialogue was delivered better, but for some reason Adriana and Luciana were hard to understand after their first scene, and I missed most of their lines for the rest of the play.
The Duke’s treatment of Egeon at the start was just as harsh, but it was clearer that it was derived from the equally harsh treatment meted out to Ephesians by Syracuse. Once Egeon’s story was underway, he was only dunked once more (gratuitously, I thought), but his treatment began to improve as the Duke’s hard heart defrosted slightly. At the end, the Duke had softened enough to dab at Egeon’s wet patches with his towel, and offered him the opportunity to find a friend who could help him out.
Antipholus of Syracuse (A/S) and his Dromio (D/S) arrived the same way as before, but when A/S was on his own, even more characters came out of the other crate. First the black guy who was caught at the end of the first half, then a priest in a long black robe, then the woman selling the knock-off goods.
For Adriana and Luciana’s first scene, the platform was (slowly) brought on, but this time it was lowered all the way to the ground and stayed there – hooray! This made it much easier to follow what was going on, and I found I was engaging with the women much more this time. Actually, it was easier to engage with Adriana, as Luciana is such a wimp, and in this production a bit of a prude as well. The next scene, with D/S meeting his master, was fine, and if I had been able to see more of Adriana’s speech to her ‘husband’ I would probably have enjoyed that section as much as the rest of the audience. Again they didn’t seem able to get the laugh on “Plead you to me, fair dame?” At one point both D/S and A/S were edging towards the water and I wondered if they would fall in, but they were safe this time.
I could see more of the arrival of Antipholus of Ephesus (A/E) this time, and although the reactions were good, it didn’t seem any funnier than before. I noticed Dromio of Ephesus’s (D/E) attempts at rap more though; possibly these have increased? I wasn’t sure what went on between Adriana and A/S; how could they have had sex if only a short while later he was declaring that his soul abhorred her? Yet that was the implication of Adriana looking out of her window with only a sheet wrapped round her, and A/S leaving the house still doing up his shirt and tie.
After A/S’s chat with Luciana, then sending D/S to find a ship and getting the chain from the goldsmith, the young black man from the crate came on again and was caught by the police. Instead of A/S joining in the group photo, he just ran off stage, glad to get away, while the lights went down on one of the guards holding a gun to the young man’s head, about to shoot.
The second half rattled along much as before until we came to the courtesan scene. When D/S rolled the oil drum at her, the flattened bit didn’t stop it, but it was going so slowly that she easily stopped it with her foot and pushed it back. After they left, D/E came running across the stage, and she threw her shoe at him, thinking he was the Dromio who’d just left. They did this a number of times during the play, with the two Dromios often on stage together, or following very closely but not catching sight of each other, and that added to the humour for me.
When Adriana caught up with her husband, bringing along Pinch and his henchmen, A/E was sent flying over one of the oil drums and nearly landed in the water; Adriana had to run over and help him out. This was the only use of the water that I could see. Adriana’s expression when the courtesan claimed her ring was not a happy one. Otherwise the staging was the same up to the end, with the flying Virgin Mary actually hitting one of the cast as she swung back across the stage. [The following day we learned he had been in the wrong place and with his eyes shut. No real damage done, but he won’t be doing that again in a hurry!] There was no second coming tonight though; at the very end, after the Dromios had said their lines and held hands, they walked towards the abbey door, stopped briefly for a hug (aahh), then walked on holding hands again. Just before they got to the abbey, the security door slid shut, and they stood there for a second before the lights went out. Brilliant, much better than the previous version.
The two Dromios were still the best part of this show, but the rest of the cast have come on so much that it’s now a pretty balanced production. There were lots of lovely touches in the comic business, such as at the end, when D/S was using gestures to indicate Nell, and D/E pulled his hand wider to reflect a more accurate size. So despite the difficulties of the restricted view and loss of lines, I enjoyed myself much more tonight and happily applauded when they came on for their bows. There was another treat, too. Bruce Mackinnon stopped us after the second lot of bows and asked if we would stay for a picture to be taken of the audience applauding, for the RSC website. We duly obliged, and then it turned out our hands weren’t visible so we had to clap again with them raised. We happily did this as well, and even called out for more. After several minutes of a rapturous reception, which the cast didn’t seem to mind one bit, the signal came that the job was done and we could all go home (though in our case we went next door to the Swan for the post-show after A Soldier In Every Son).
© 2012 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me