The Comedy Of Errors @ Novello Theatre, London

cast list
Alice Barclay
Suzanne Burden
Eke Chukwu
Christopher Colquhoun
Richard Cordery
Joe Dixon
Stewart W. Fraser
Diveen Henry
Tom Hodgkins
Frances Jeater
Bettrys Jones
Sinead Keenan
Geoffrey Lumb
Forbes Masson
Neil McKinven
Christopher Obi
Oscar Pearce
Christopher Robert
Jonathan Slinger
Kevin Trainor

directed by
Nancy Meckler

There are some strong common elements between The Comedy Of Errors and Twelfth Night (the previous entry in the RSC’s new season of comedies). Both use the popular and potent Shakespearean symbol of shipwreck to kickstart their respective plots. The theme of identity confusion also makes them close siblings. And then there is the strong “pantomime” element which links their joyous celebration of worlds turned upside down.

Fortunately, director Nancy Meckler seems to have a strong grasp of good comic pacing, and this makes all the difference between this and the previous production’s rather bizarre excesses.

Things don’t get off to a brilliant start: Errors is burdened with some particularly laborious back-story exposition at the beginning and this will always make a show feel like trying to start an old car on a cold winter’s day. Meckler’s choice of a dumb show accompaniment using puppets is not particularly helpful in this regard. Once completed, though, the pace picks up and we are allowed to enjoy the slightly daft and over-the-top proceedings at full tilt.

The performances are even, with some notably strong turns from both sets of twins, and, as is sometimes the case, some nice comedy from the supporting roles – Oscar Pearce’s Antonio is particularly well played. Suzanne Burden’s alcoholic Adriana is a little over-the-top, but this is counterpointed by a sweet turn from Sinead Keenan as her sister and confidante, Luciana. However, as with the recent Twelfth Night there are elements in the staging and direction which confuse rather than clarify, making the Comedy at times more of a Confusion.

For instance, when the hour-by-hour countdown to Egeon’s execution and the end of the play is so clearly written, why have a chiming clock offstage telling the wrong time between scenes? Why do the Dromios have (different) Yorkshire accents when their masters do not? And why is someone pushing a rail of floaty, white clothes around the stage between scene changes?

I suspect that giving the audience something to chew on is deliberate and is not just because the RSC is bored of working with the same old material. Let’s hope so. The only trouble is that you get the feeling that everything except the kitchen sink is being put on stage, making the visual interpretation of the play’s different themes overwhelm the production.

Two and a half hours feels rather too long for Shakespeare’s shortest, snappiest play – but there is still much to enjoy in a production where everyone genuinely looks like they’re having fun amid the chaos and confusion.

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