Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Comedy of Errors at Regents Park

The last really funny performance of this play I saw was at The Open Air Theatre some years ago, so I went with high hopes.

The complicated plot involves two sets of identical twins separated in a shipwreck, with one pair arriving twenty years later in the town, Ephesus, where the other pair live. The master-and-servant duos wander about misleading the townsfolk and one another. To add to the confusion, the servant twins are both called Dromio and the master twins are both Antipholus. Their father is coincidentally awaiting execution for the offence of being an illegal immigrant.

Shakespeare played this mistaken-twins card most effectively to my mind in Twelfth Night where there's the added frisson of Viola, disguised in men's clothes, causing the woman she woos on behalf of her employer to fall in love with her.

Unfortunately, double the twins doesn't mean double the fun. The Comedy of Errors belongs to the same, tedious, word-play stage of the bard's development as Love's Labours Lost, in which I had the misfortune to play 'Costard, a clown' in a school performance. Since that painful time I've been aware that tastes in comic banter have changed a lot since an audience fell about at the idea that 'lying' could have two meanings.

One of the drawbacks of The Comedy of Errors is is the long exposition at the start to explain how the twins became masters and servants in the first place. The description of the storm is good, but goes on too long.

Delivered with some inventive slapstick the misunderstandings can be funny. Here it was often just frantic, but the stylish presentation helped make up for it.

Ephesus tranformed into a 1940s Casablanca complete with neon night-club and a jazz-band, a beach scene, a gorilla and a Sally Bowles style torch singer in suspenders livened it up. The inclusion of some non-Shakespearian songs, particularly At Long Last Love also helped the medicine, i.e.scampering and bantering, go down. That it did is thanks mainly to designer Gideon Davey and musical director Paul Frankish

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