Sunday, 13 June 2021

REVIEW: The Comedy of Errors at the Roman Theatre, St Albans

It’s not often you get to see a Shakespeare play in a theatre that pre-dates the Bard himself, but The Roman Open Air Theatre Festival provides that rare opportunity. A tale of twins and mistaken identities, this reimagining of the famous Shakespeare comedy fuses a modern setting with Elizabethan language and a handful of karaoke classics. 

As the story begins, we learn through a beachfront puppet show that two sets of twins are separated by a storm at a very young age. The play then goes on to see how these sets of twins happen by the same town at the same time and are repeatedly mistaken for each other to the utter confusion of themselves and the townspeople. The strange and silly plot allowed director Matthew Parker many freedoms that may have been more difficult in any other Shakespeare. 

The use of physical comedy and farcical tropes brought an additional layer of comedy and energy that invigorated the show. The performers handled this with dexterity and brilliance, really embodying the pace and the tone. 

Shakespeare's lovable characters are brought to life by a fantastic and talented cast. William Donaldson holds court and guides us through the action as the Courtesan. With his quick wit and sassy attitude, he keeps the show flowing and the audience up to speed. Lewis Jenkins as Antipholus of Syracuse, and Sam Denia as Dromio of Syracuse have chemistry unmatched in the rest of the cast. They bounce off each other like old friends and match the energy in every scene. Denia’s speed and physicality are enthralling to witness, and their paired comedy timing is spot-on. This is Jenkins’ professional debut and his command of the text is exquisite. Mark my words, Jenkins is a performer to watch. 

Antipholus of Ephesus and Dromio of Ephesus, played by Gabriel Fogarty-Graveson and Oliver Lynes respectively, hold their own in this whirlwind of a show. Alongside the rest of the cast comprised of Phoebe Marshall, Rosie Edwards, Matthew Parker, Sheetal Kapoor, Cassandra Hodges, and Reece Pantry, the Ephesus servant his master tells the story brilliantly and keep the audience hooked and engaged throughout. Kapoor’s eccentric ‘Pinch’ is a bizarre moment that is worth looking out for! 

Parker’s artistic vision, on paper, seems completely mad. A mix of contemporary and Elizabethan language, paired with a comedy story and set in a karaoke bar on a beach; the pieces don’t initially seem to fit together. However, in practice, the transition between the seventeenth and twenty-first centuries isn’t as jarring as I expected. Whilst the classic pup songs performed by the cast fit well and help progress the story and develop the characters, it is evident that this is not a cast of musical theatre graduates. On the other hand, the fact that neither the characters nor the performers took themselves too seriously, and that it is set in a karaoke bar; the singing style fits well. 

All in all, this is a wonderful production fit for the whole family. Set in a beautiful historic open-air theatre, with a brilliant cast and a Shakespearean comedy, what’s not to love? 

Review by Max Topliss

Rating: ★★★★

Seat: B11 | Price of Ticket: £24

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