Comedy Of Errors – August 2012

8/10

By William Shakespeare

Directed by Amir Nizar Zuabi

Venue: RST

Date: Thursday 23rd August 2012

This was great fun tonight. We thought this production had potential when we saw it in preview, and they’ve proved us right. There were a few changes and some things which I saw for the first time from our new angle, while the dialogue was much clearer than before.

There were no changes to the set as far as I could see. [Having checked my earlier notes again, I think the two bollards at the top of the raised ramp at the back had disappeared by this time. Either that or I just couldn’t see them from my position.] The opening scene was likewise the same, and although some people laughed at the violence, I found it unenjoyable. It did get the story of the twins across quite well though, which is important. When the crates arrived at the dock, I spotted Dromio of Ephesus passing through the scene this time, and being chased off by the dock workers.

When he returned to summon his master, as he thought, to dinner, his hand gestures were even more persistent than before. He kept moving them from pointing in Antipholus’s direction round to the far exit, encouraging him to go. It was very funny, although I did wonder if it was getting in the way of the scene a bit, as I wasn’t listening to Antipholus so much. Still, I love the two Dromios in this, so I’m loath to criticise their comic business.

The same three illegal immigrants came out of the other crate, though this time the woman offered Antipholus the track suits and then the bags – no sale. Again this business interrupted the dialogue a lot, and risked losing the energy as well, but they kept it going just fine.

Adriana and Luciana were good, with their dialogue being much clearer, apart from the time when Adriana stuck her napkin in Luciana’s mouth to stop her wittering on about marriage when she’s still a spinster. Dromio leapt up on to the struts of the ceiling to avoid Adriana’s wrath, and I forgot to mention last time that she took a cupcake off the stand on the table after Dromio had gone and smashed it into her face when she was talking about losing her beauty.

When Antipholus of Syracuse met his own Dromio in the next scene, he took his jacket off to be able to beat him the better, and handed it to Dromio to hold. It was dropped on the ground at some point, and later Dromio picked it up to put it back on his master, only to start with the wrong sleeve. When he did get the sleeve right, he failed to get it on Antipholus’s arm, so the whole jacket slid over his shoulders. Antipholus took it off Dromio and put it on himself, just before Adriana and Luciana arrived. (They cut the lines after “purchase me another dry basting”.) I noticed that Adriana threw her lovely coat with a fur collar down on the stage after she arrived, but almost immediately picked it up and gave it to Luciana to hold; care of one’s clothes seems to be a theme of this production.

We’d heard from Kirsty Bushell that she did some business to suggest that Adriana noticed some changes in her husband – the Antipholi are very different in height – and we spotted these tonight. She’s also playing Olivia in Twelfth Night, and one of the directors had told her that when her characters see the other twin, they are in such a needy place that they overlook what’s obvious to the rest of us. It’s a fair point, though not quite enough to cover the discrepancies in these productions, but we managed to overlook the problem so as to enjoy ourselves more.

The look of puzzlement between Antipholus and Dromio got the laugh that normally comes on “plead you to me, fair dame?”, which is fair enough, and Dromio almost fell in the water trying to get away when Antipholus was angry with him over Adriana’s confirmation of his earlier encounter with Dromio of Ephesus – “for even her very words thou didst deliver to me on the mart”. When Antipholus and Adriana kissed, Luciana looked away, embarrassed, while Dromio seemed more concerned about being beaten again. The door was hoisted onto the stage, and although I didn’t find the opening scene funny, I did laugh at the slapstick when Dromio was hit by the door, twice.

With the Syracusan pair safely installed in the Ephesian house, Adriana’s real husband turned up with his mates for dinner. The scene was as before, though we had a better view of some aspects from the side. The two Dromios looked through the letterbox at one point and both backed off rapidly from the door, scared by what they saw. I didn’t see much of Nell this time until she chased Dromio of Syracuse off the stage with a large squash. After Antipholus of Ephesus left, his Dromio chased after him carrying the “iron crow” he’d asked for. I foresee another beating when he catches up with his master; he interpreted that instruction by bringing a weather vane with a crow on top of it.

The scene between Antipholus of Syracuse and Luciana was OK, and certainly made it clear that Luciana fancied this Antipholus a lot. The following section, with Dromio relating Nell’s attributes, was very entertaining, and then we just had the delivery of the chain by Angelo and the capture and shooting of the other illegal immigrant before the interval. This time the captain offered his gun to Antipholus to shoot the man, but he ran off in a panic, naturally enough. The lights went out before the shot, as before, and although the audience took a little while to realise it was time for applause, we dished out plenty when the penny dropped.

It was a brisk first half, and the second opened with the disposing of the dead body – no improvement there.  Then followed the scene with Angelo in danger of being arrested over the money he owed to a merchant. When Antipholus of Ephesus arrived, they argued over who had the chain, and at one point the goldsmith was so stressed he had to use his inhaler. When Dromio of Syracuse arrived, he was carrying a lifejacket and had a bright orange life preserver round his neck – very funny.

The next scene had Adriana dunking Luciana in another goldfish tank; I assume no fish were harmed in this production, even though Steve spotted Luciana spitting one out when she lifted her head out of the water. This time the water torture was funny, especially when Adriana dunked her own head in there at the end. The platform was still suspended for this scene, but apart from a few spins and Dromio of Syracuse being nervous about stepping off it, it didn’t add much.

When the platform was being winched on and off again, they covered the scene change with some business, usually having the band troop across the stage. For this change they also laid out some barrels and rolled Antipholus of Syracuse across them. When the others left, Antipholus was balancing on one remaining barrel, holding a bag (as provided by the woman from the crate) and for some unknown reason a scrap of green cloth. He delivered the lines well enough, but he could have done it just as well standing on the ground.

When he did get down, we noticed he placed the bag under the barrel to stop it rolling down the stage. The courtesan was much the same, but one thing I forgot to mention before was that after the Syracusans left, and when she was planning to visit Adriana, she took the padding out of her bra – four separate pieces – and threw them behind her. This got a good laugh. When Dromio of Ephesus passed across the stage, he was carrying a big bundle of rope – we know what he’s going to do with that – and when she threw her shoe at him tonight she almost hit him. This is a dangerous production for the male actors with the women being so violent; even the Madonna has hit someone in passing.

Speaking of which, Adriana dealt with the officer by twisting his arm behind his back, and after the abbess had dealt with Adriana’s attack by crushing her fist in her hand, both the officer and another chap leapt out of her way when she went back into the abbey, all very funny. In general, the scenes through to the final confrontations in front of the abbey were good fun with no significant changes to report. There was a strong response to the merchant, the one to whom Angelo owed money, taking out a machete to fight Antipholus of Syracuse. When Dromio of Ephesus confirmed that his master had not dined at home, he revealed to Adriana that they had dined with the courtesan. Her story had been that Antipholus had rushed into her house and stolen her ring, but now Adriana knew the truth she was not a happy bunny – that was what led to her slamming the courtesan’s head against the oil drum. She also pulled down the hem of the courtesan’s skirt earlier as it had been riding much too high, entirely intentional on the courtesan’s part. The rest was as before. I sniffled, I laughed, and the ending was just as good as the last time.

There were a few new bits of business that I find hard to place. Nell came running across the stage after Dromio of Syracuse who had just left, crying “Dromio, Dromio, wherefore are thou Dromio?” which was very funny. But then Dromio of Ephesus came on stage, spotted her leaving and rushed after her saying “shakalaka” or some such vocalisation of desire. During another of the scene changes, the woman from the crate wheeled her shopping trolley onto the stage and was selling to the citizens. Dromio of Ephesus and his Nell wandered on and were looking at the goods – presumably he was going to buy her a present – but the police came along and the woman, along with everyone else, was off like a shot. When Angelo was talking about the chain to Antipholus of Ephesus, he tried to mollify Antipholus’s anger by repeating some of the  tune they’d been singing earlier, to no effect.

This production has really come together. There’s still too much unnecessary violence and tricksy staging for my liking, but the cast have overcome all of that to tell the story really well and provide us with a lot of humour along the way. The two Dromios are still the best thing in it, but the others have caught up a lot, and they deserve to play to packed houses. Good luck to them.

© 2012 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

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