The TheatreguideLondon Review
The Comedy Of Errors
Olivier Theatre Winter 2011-2012
The National Theatre's winter comedy is a thoroughly enjoyable romp, but just about all its virtues are Shakespeare's, with the production itself adding little.
(Quick reminder: two sets of twins separated as infants end up in the same town and are constantly mistaken for each other.)
Directors, designers and actors of Shakespeare have three approaches – insights that illuminate and enrich the play, irrelevant concepts imposed on the play, and just staying out of its way. Dominic Cooke's direction and Bunny Christie's design fall somewhere between the second and third options.
There is a concept – setting this light-hearted farce in a gritty modern city – but it doesn't have much effect, positive or negative. One scene is set in a pool hall, Shakespeare's inn becomes a Hamburg or Amsterdam-style brothel, and the convent at the end is a rehab clinic.
None of that is particularly funny, none adds anything to the play's meanings, but none is particularly distracting. (Dressing the resident Antipholus's wife and her sister in what Mafia molls might consider high style is a good visual joke, and helps the two actresses find funny characterisations.)
For the most part, everybody just stays out of the way of the play and lets it work. The string of mistaken identity scenes, with their inevitable double-takes and confused reactions, virtually direct themselves, and very little happens here that is original or surprising.
Neither Lenny Henry nor Chris Jarman as the Antipholi demonstrate much that's special in comic flair or timing, though Lucian Msamati and Daniel Poyser have an attractive and appropriate cheeky chappie quality as the Dromios.
By playing wife and sister as bimbos trying to be ladies (or vice-versa), Claudie Blakley and Michelle Terry do contribute something new to the fun, but several in the supporting cast seem visibly uncomfortable onstage, as if they had never been told who to play or even where to stand.
Director Cooke does solve one of the play's big problems – a long speech of back-story exposition in the opening scene – by having it acted out behind the speaker, but elsewhere he repeatedly has trouble with big scenes, leaving too many actors just standing around trying to think of something to do while one or two are talking. (The Doctor Pinch chase scene is particularly awkward – though, to be fair, I've never seen it work.)
There are a lot of laughs here, but the laughs are almost all Shakespeare's, and the best you can say of the production is that it finds and delivers them – which is commendation enough.
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Review - Comedy of Errors - National Theatre 2011
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