The Comedy of Errors
Souter Lighthouse, Whitburn, South Tyneside, and touring
The Comedy of Errors, one of Shakespeare's earliest plays (possibly even the first), is perfect fodder for the Illyria treatment. It's pure comedy: there's slapstick and word-play; there's confusion and coincidence, mistaken identity, a nagging wife, a husband who likes a bit on the side, browbeaten servants, a mad doctor/priest/exorcist, and all sorts of improbability. The characters are pretty much stock - compare them to those of, say, Twelfth Night where even the most broadly-drawn have some depth - and there is no sense of sub-text, such as we get in A Midsummer Night's Dream. And even though there is some playing with language, it is at a pretty basic level, with nothing like the sophistication of Love's Labour's Lost, another of the earlier plays.
It is, at bottom, a comedic romp, and Illyria grab very opportunity to get a laugh. Not that even they can do a great deal with Aegeon's long expository speech in the first scene, although they have a damned good try, playing him as a cartoon character with the other characters responding to him with choreographed exaggerated reactions.
Five actors play all nineteen parts, with Kevin Fuller as the two Antipholi and Alastair Chilsholm as the Dromios, although, with the customary Illyrian quick changes, most of the company play one or other at some stage - and a Dromio is even played by a mask on a stick on a few occasions! Between them Becky George and Oliver Parham manage nine named parts, as well as standing in for one of the Antipholi or Dromios from time to time, so the sight of an actor leaving the stage to emerge seconds later in another costume as another character becomes so common that it adds to the fun.
Yet more humour is added by the modern parallels which director Oliver Gray finds in the characters. Apart from Aegeon's cartoon portrayal, there's the Officer who is played as a gun-toting sheriff in the John Wayne tradition and Dr Pinch, the exorcist, is a wonderfully realised American deep south evangelist.
The Comedy of Errors is probably one of the most accessible of Shakespeare's comedies to modern audiences and Illyria's approach makes it even more so. Why? Because we laughed - long and loud.
"The Comedy of Errors" continues to tour for the rest of July and throughout August. See their website for details.
Reviewer: Peter Lathan