The Comedy of Errors
The first Shakespearean comedy to be performed during Dominic Dromgoole's tenure takes its inspiration from an earlier source.
Clearly very aware that The Comedy of Errors was based on Menaechmi, a comedy by Plautus, Christopher Luscombe has brought the appropriate spirit to a presentation in a season entitled The Edge of Rome. In this he is aided by designer Janet Bird who has created a set of bright, pastel-coloured togas to set the mood.
This two-hour production could hardly be further from Nancy Meckler's sparkling RSC version reviewed earlier in the year. Here, we have a Roman comedy with influences seemingly drawn largely from British film and TV of the 1970s and 1980s, as well as traditional clowning and slapstick.
For much of the time, especially when Sarah Woodward's shrewish Adriana takes centre stage, you would swear that this was the missing Carry On film, perhaps Carry On Will. At other times, Fawlty Towers, Benny Hill and Up Pompeii seem reincarnated.
The one influence that is missing for much of the time is the playwright himself. In part, this is because several of the actors struggle to throw their voices beyond the pit, let alone to the back seats in the upper galleries.
Following an inaudible introductory speech, it must take Shakespearean novices a little time to establish that, following a typically bardic sea tragedy, two pairs of twins have been separated and brought up in Ephesus and Syracuse respectively.
The tall Antipholuses, played by Simon Wilson and Andrew Havill, are both a bit dim but have the money to mean that this doesn't matter.
Their hapless servants, a pair of Dromios, looking like mustard-coloured garden gnomios, are dimmer and get battered unmercifully in this comedy of misunderstandings. Both Sam Alexander and Eliot Giuralarocca perform admirably as these downtrodden menservants, as does Laura Rees playing Luciana, especially when turning down the unwanted advances of a man who seems to be her brother-in-law.
Everything comes right in the reconciliation scene in which brother and brother, husband and wife meet for the first time in decades, though with laughs rather than tears to the fore.
The acting is supported by a Globe rarity - a largely wind band playing up to date musical instruments. They help the clowning effects, which prove to be the greatest strength of this slimmed-down Comedy.
This very un-Shakespearean evening has many very funny moments and will appeal to an audience that is typically multi-national and therefore prone to struggle with Elizabethan English. Whether purists will come away satisfied might be more questionable.
Reviewer: Philip Fisher