The Comedy of Errors
Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon
I have returned to Stratford-upon-Avon for my annual summer break . I will be catching up with the season's second theme, Shipwreck Trilogy, comprising The Comedy of Errors, Twelfth Night, and The Tempest. I will also be seeing the two latest productions, Much Ado About Nothing and for the first time Troilus and Cressida.
Back in March I went to see the National Theatre's live screening of their production of The Comedy of Errors and I thought that it lacked farce on an intimate level and was not brave enough to explore the play's darker tones. What is good about this production is that it manages to mix together the dark and farcical elements of the play. Whilst they occasionally overlapped, the play was still a farce in its own right whilst the Duke's (Sandy Grierson) strict reign was never forgotten between beginning and end. The twins of Syracuse (Jonathan McGuinness and Bruce Mackinnon) arrived as illegal immigrants climbing out of an imported crate. The first scene shows Egeon (Nicholas Day) being tortured by the Duke by being dunked head-first into a tank of water. Between each scene soldiers would march across the stage either playing the Ephesusian National Anthem, holding loudspeakers to broadcast the Duke's laws or hunting down immigrants from Syracuse.
On the otherhand whilst the slapstick moments were on top form, previous productions have been more creative by using the scenery and getting other characters involved. As an example, this production lacked a big chase sequence, which was quite a dissapointment. It would have been interesting to see how such an event can be performed on the thrust stage. The high point would have to be Doctor Pinch's (Jonathan Slinger) and his entourage of black clothed assistants. Otherwise the production does not surpass the National Theatre production's emotional ending.
However, what makes this a better production than the National Theatre's is that it was intimate and versatile. For example, when it came to using something as simple as a door for the twins to shout through to each other, the National Theatre's production was restricted by its grandiose set. In this production the cast only used one moveable door with aplomb, instead of a fixed door with an intercom.
Stephen Hagan, Jonathan McGuinness, Felix Hayes, and Bruce Mackinnon were great as the twin brothers. Hayes and Mackinnon in particular were very expressive and energetic as the comic servants, especially during the globe scene. This is however the first time I noticed that the director did not put enough effort into establishing the allusion that the twins were identical. Whilst I would overlook the different pitches in the servants' voices, Adrianna would have noticed that her husband had suddenly aged and shortened in height.
Sandy Grierson was an impressive Solinus, though his use of the loudspeekers became annoying. Nicholas Day was great as Egeon as he told the character's woeful tales. Emily Taaffe was a sweet and innocent Luciana, whilst Kirsty Bushell was an overpowering and furious Adrianna. Lastly, Jonathan Slinger returned to the play as a cameo in the role of Doctor Pinch, which he performed with grotesque panache.
The stage compromised of wooden boards, and during this trilogy it reminds one of a shipwreck. A tank of water appears from beneath the boards downstage, giving the appearance of the shoreline. In keeping with this waterlogged theme, an industrial dock is the setting for this production. Around the stage there were oil drums, containers, crates, sacks, anchors, netting, and buoys. An abandoned shopping trolly could also be seen within the murky water. A crane moved above the stage and brought on different pieces of scenery
This production is a step up from the National Theatre's production, though lacking in creativity during the physical moments. It is still a very good start to the trilogy and should be seen at a Bargain.