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Thursday, 1 April 2010

Theatre - The Comedy of Errors - Royal Exchange

Star rating – 7/10

This is the shortest of Shakespeare’s plays, and is a light anarchic comedy of twins, tempests and mistaken identities.

All the action takes place in a single day in Ephesus, where a Syracusan merchant finds himself in a strange land under sentence of death. Whilst pleading for his life to the Duke, the merchant Egeon tells his back story of how his wife and he had identical twin sons, and adopted another set of identical twin sons, born on the same day in the same inn, and were then separated from them and each other in a shipwreck. Ok, so the basic premise is all a bit far fetched, but if you can just suspend your disbelief at the set up and just immerse yourself in the action it is great fun.

The main comic parts are brilliantly played by Owain Arthur (pictured) and Michael Jibson as Dromio of Ephesus and Dromio of Syracuse respectively. They are brothers who do not know it, and who do not meet but whose paths keep crossing to the consternation of the other players in the farce. One notable scene is when Dromio of Syracuse is describing the woman who claims to be his wife but who he has never seen before. His description of her physical attributes is hilarious.

The other identity mix up is between the brothers Antipholus, and the various wives, merchants and townsfolk that they meet and totally confuse, and are confused by in equal measure, during the course of the day, again without being aware of each others’ existence.

The costumes are lovely, very rich and colourful, and really help to set the scene in ancient Ephesus. The technical staging is the weak point here though. There is not much of it, but what little there is gets in the way – the Duke suspended over the stage at the start in a perspex box containing his throne; the revolving stage effect which was a good idea but badly in need of a bit of oil as it creaked its way loudly through every rotation; and the Abbess appearing as the good fairy with lights round her bodice like a pantomime figure, but whose wires were something of a hindrance and required help from another member of the cast. It would have been better if director Roxana Silbert had had the confidence to go with paired down staging completely, and made do with just a door at the crucial moment. Writing this good can speak for itself.

But the staging apart, this is a great bit of light relief from the master. It is hard to believe that someone could have the skill, range, and imagination to write tragic masterpieces such as King Lear and Hamlet, with the same quill as such light amusing comic pieces as this one.

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