Thursday, 11 September 2014

Theatre review: The Comedy of Errors (Shakespeare's Globe)

This Globe season has taken us  to Troy, Egypt and Jerusalem, so it's in keeping that their final Shakespeare production of the year has also been given a Middle-Eastern flavour. Although Blanche McIntyre hasn't let the Arabian Nights setting of her Comedy of Errors stop her from throwing in all kinds of more recent references from Quidditch to Looney Tunes. This early comedy may be Shakespeare's shortest play but 2 hours 25 minutes still feels pleasingly brisk, especially as McIntyre has added a lengthy silent comedy opening, introducing us to Dromio of Ephesus (Jamie Wilkes) as he clambers perilously around the stage. It sets up this Dromio as the slapstick twin, while Dromio of Syracuse (Brodie Ross) will prove to be the one with more word-play and witticisms in his arsenal.

After a shaky start, with a bland and sometimes inaudible Basil Exposition speech from James Laurenson's Egeus, things start to pick up. Two pairs of identical twins, separated at birth, cause chaos when Antipholus of Syracuse (Simon Harrison) arrives in Ephesus where his brother, also called Antipholus (Matthew Needham) has lived all his life. He's constantly mistaken for his brother, while he himself confuses Dromio of Ephesus with his own servant.

It's not a flawless rendition of the play but The Comedy of Errors is pretty robust if approached with enough enthusiasm, which this production undoubtedly has. With the exception of sneaking a "fuck" into the script this seems a particularly PG-rated show, with no suggestion that Antipholus S. actually shags his brother's wife Adriana (Hattie Ladbury) before deciding he prefers her sister Luciana (Becci Gemmell,) And things are left decidedly vague about exactly how Antipholus E. knows the Courtesan (Emma Jerrold.)

But other than this family-friendly element there's not much holding back from McIntyre, who in her first time directing at the Globe avoids the common rookie mistake of keeping too much of the action in one place (because of the onstage pillars, every seat in the house has an obstructed view of some part of the stage, so moving everyone around a lot means no one section of audience is worst-off.) There's some over-the-top costumes that help convey the impression of a frantic port town where goods are traded at a hectic pace, while Andy Apollo's ridiculous Gaoler has a look of the Swiss Guard about him. As well as these costumes, designer James Cotterill's contribution extends to a set that often joins in with the slapstick.

The two pairs of twins are good physical matches but establish distinct enough personalities - Antipholus E. isn't given much to do early on but as he gets more stage time Needham gives him an endearing petulance in the face of the indignities he goes through. The Dromios get the aforementioned distinction between the more talkative and the more physical one, and it's interesting to see the reaction to Ross' description of the planet-sized Nell - there was certainly some audible sympathy for the unseen woman being made fun of for her weight, but at the same time a lot of laughter for the creativeness of Dromio S' insults.

Overall, the comedy never quite rises to the hysterical levels it's capable of, and the characters of the sisters feel oddly underdeveloped, but this is a satisfying, creative Comedy of Errors that makes for an amiable conclusion to a mixed summer season.

The Comedy of Errors by William Shakespeare is booking in repertory until the 12th of October at Shakespeare's Globe.

Running time: 2 hours 25 minutes including interval.

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