Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Theatre review: The Comedy of Errors (RSC / RST & Roundhouse)

The last, for me, in the "What country friends is this?" season (although the first written) is The Comedy of Errors, Shakespeare's silliest play, featuring two pairs of identical twins, a gold chain and a fair bit of extramarital shagging, both intentional and accidental. Antipholus of Syracuse (Jonathan McGuinness) arrives in Ephesus with his servant Dromio (Bruce Mackinnon.) They try to blend in and do so a bit too well, unaware that they're being mistaken for their twin brothers, also called Anthipholus (Stephen Hagan) and Dromio (Felix Hayes.) And yes, it continues to irritate me that Antipholus of Syracuse doesn't put two and two together when he actually knows he has an identical twin out there somewhere, which is why he set sail from Syracuse in the first place, to find him; let's just put it down to him being a massive idiot and get on with the review.

The production itself is one of the funniest I've seen, perhaps even eclipsing last year's Propeller offering since this once comes to life pretty early on. Director Amir Nazir Zuabi has found and exploited every opportunity for physical comedy that the play offers, and everyone throws themselves into it. Zuabi would seem to be as unimpressed by Egeon's interminable exposition speech at the start as I am, since he has Nicholas Day's Egeon have his head dunked into a fish tank at various points during it. Because this is a particularly dangerous Ephesus, ruled by Sandy Grierson's gangster Solinus and filled with shady characters. There's a theme of illegal immigrants throughout, the Syracusians arriving hidden in a packing crate along with many others - in fact this attempt at a darker side is the only false move in the production, hard to reconcile with the madness everywhere else.

Jon Bausor's set, which has had a common stage with variations for the three productions, reaches its zenith for this show, dominated by a crane that carries onstage crates, scenery, entire rooms and eventually Egeon, a further indignity for Day. It leads to a lot of simple but clever staging, a front door that pivots around providing a great solution to the scene of the two Dromios talking to each other through a door. Oil barrels (the general theme of the set being a busy docks) also give a lot of opportunities for slapstick.

Kirsty Bushell and Felix Hayes have proved themselves the comic stars of the trilogy in many ways, the former playing a pretty deranged, disheveled Adriana. Meanwhile Hayes, well-matched physically with Mackinnon as his twin, continues to be a scene-stealer with the tiniest gesture, while in this his Dromio also gets a memorable running musical gag that gets a lot of laughs. In fact this production does a particularly good job of showing how different the two master-servant relationships are, which clarifies how a lot of the confusion comes about.

Hagan and McGuinness are less of a convincing physical match but each gives a funny take on his Antipholus. Ian (who hadn't seen The Comedy of Errors before and lucked out with his first) was mainly here for Big Favourite Round These Parts Stephen Hagan, still hot even with a stuck-on mustache as part of his wide-boy look. (The company must have had a lot of faith in that fake facial hair; usually the moment an actor starts to sweat they start to peel off; this one survives when Hagan, too, gets his head dunked underwater - it's a bit of a theme.) Antipholus of Ephesus doesn't get much to do until the second half of the play but then no opportunity to humiliate him is wasted once he's arrested, then put in front of Jonathan Slinger's cameo of a satanic Doctor Pinch. In a nice bit of mirroring across the plays, Slinger here plays a character threatening to put someone in a dark room as a cure for madness, a fate he himself is on the receiving end of as Malvolio in Twelfth Night.

There's nice moments from Cecilia Noble as a bolshy Mother Superior, and Amie Burns Walker's Courtesan flinging her "chicken fillet" fake breasts across the stage in anger; and Jan Knightley's character appearing dressed identically in all three plays, suggesting this seaman in a high-vis jacket might have been on the scene of all three shipwrecks (in which case he might want to look for a new job, he's clearly a jinx.) This is an almost perfectly-executed Comedy of Errors. The trilogy's nearly ended its London run but if you're planning on seeing one when they return to Stratford-upon-Avon, this would be my pick of the three.

The Comedy of Errors by William Shakespeare is booking in repertory until the 4th of July at the Roundhouse; then returning to the repertory until the 6th of October at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon.

Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes including interval

1 comment:

  1. Great review. This wasn't my pick of the three but it was a close second.

    "And yes, it continues to irritate me that Antipholus of Syracuse doesn't put two and two together"

    This has long been a source of frustration for me too. I can only marvel at his stupidity.