Gray’s Inn Hall, London – until 1 September 2016
Sixteenth century farce that, unlike much of Shakespeare’s work, barely skirts around the human condition, doesn’t easily stand up to modern scrutiny. The Comedy Of Errors is an implausible tale of identical twins, mistaken identities and Benny Hill style chases across the stage and to work well, demands a stylish production.
So bravo to producers Antic Disposition for pitching their production squarely in the 1920s era of jazz and spatz-shoed hoodlums. Music adds much to the show’s minimalist styling and with an intelligently themed nod to the 1950s movie Some Like It Hot that starred Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon, it all makes for a good evening of entertaining theatre.
The music is bravely conceived through an ensemble of actor-musicians. And to be fair to the creatives, in a casting exercise that must have been challenging, for the most part they have succeeded. The company has decently matching physical resemblances where required, alongside accomplished musical abilities. William de Coverly and Alex Hooper along with Andrew Venning and Keith Higinbotham are convincing as the two sets of identical twins separated from each other in their infancy and it is a particular treat to hear Hooper’s banjo strumming. With Chichester’s current Half A Sixpence heavily centered around the banjo, the instrument’s 2016 renaissance in both drama and musical theatre is proving a blast. There is classy work elsewhere from Susie Broadbent’s Courtesan, playing the role not only as that of prostitute (as Shakespeare originally ordained) but also as a sultry-voiced Monroe-esque chanteuse, offering up a handful of American Songbook classics that nicely fill what is one of the shorter plays in the canon.
When not playing the saxophone (which she does very well), Ellie Ann Lowe stubbornly smoulders as Adriana the wife of one brother who then finds herself amorously (and unwittingly) involved with her identical brother in law. And Philip Mansfield’s deliciously end-of-the-pier tackiness as inept magician Dr Pinch spices up the second half, enhanced by Lizzy Gunby’s economical lighting plots.
Horslen and Riseboro take some liberties with the verse, but the context remains clear and with most of their performers delivering top notch turns it all works well. There’s a lovely note to history too – remarkably and some 400 odd years ago, the play premiered in this very same venue!
Runs until 1st September 2016