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Monday, 29 November 2021

REVIEW: The Comedy of Errors at the Barbican Theatre

The programme lists ten previous productions of The Comedy of Errors by the Royal Shakespeare Company since 1914 and each Director likes to find a new vision for the production. It may have been written in 1594 but Phillip Breen places the action in the Nineteen Eighties in an Eastern Mediterranean hotel foyer with a hint of the never-ending staircase in the wall mosaic(designed by Max Jones). He seems inspired by the comedy of that decade which began with Fawlty Towers and ended with Mr Bean and in-between featured the anarchic frantic comedy of the Young Ones. He accompanies all the action and scene changes with the music by a four-part group who sounded like the Swingle Singers who appeared on so many TV variety shows of the seventies and eighties. The result is a typical British slapstick farce played full-on with energy and over the top physical and facial reactions in the full awareness that this is a stage show in front of a live audience.

We have to suspend our disbelief with the absurd plot of mistaken identities and stupidity of the characters as they stumble from one disastrous encounter to another in the space of just twenty-four hours without recognising their mistakes. The comedy is anarchic, outrageous and maniacal but in the hands of comedy greats like John Cleese, Rik Mayall or Rowan Atkinson they would be playing it with deadly seriousness not realising how their behaviour looks, here the cast are directed to play it with a knowing glint in their eyes and an occasional wink at the audience. As we are in on the joke from the start, we never really get sucked into the mayhem but are casual observers of the main character like the large ensemble behind them.

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. 
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