The Comedy of Errors @ Open Air Theatre, London

cast list
Alister Cameron, Christopher Ravenscroft, Christopher Logan, Tom Silburn, DanielWeyman, Joseph Kloska, Josh Cohen, Jo Herbert, Sophie Roberts, Daniel Llewelyn-Williams, David Shaw-Parker, Faye Winter, Richard Warwick, Tim Freeman, Anna-JaneCasey, Veronica Roberts, Richie Hart, Paul Frankish, Alan Brown

Philip FranksA billboard on the stage of the Open Air Theatre proclaims ‘EphesusWelcomes You’. The small print, on the other hand, reads Excludes all those fromSyracuse. Any Syracusan found in Ephesus is subject to a fine or death.

Together, the two proclamations sum up The Comedy of Errors as a whole. Atfirst glance, it is a straight forward farce concerning mistaken identity, but below the surfaceit raises less comfortable questions concerning hierarchy and attitudes towards the other.

Not that any of this prevents the play from being brilliant fun, and in this productiondirector Philip Franks makes some very intelligent decisions. He has embellished theplay with music and visual distractions, while ensuring that the text is respected.
The result is an evening thatgrants us all the exuberance that we crave from outdoor theatre in the sun, while alsoproviding us with an insightful performance of one of Shakespeares greatest comedies.

Franks sets the play in the 1940s with Ephesus becoming Casablanca. A giant billboardforms the backdrop, with baskets, birdcages and carpets lying around, and a sign advertisingthe Porpentine Cafe Americcun (sic) hanging above a live jazz duo. Characters are dressedin a mixture of Western and Ali Baba style costumes, alluding to the different nationalitiesand hierarchies involved in the plot, and jazz and swing tunes blare out from speakers or are played live on stage.

There are plenty of understated jokes such as the priceless way in which the Abbess,Emelia (Veronica Roberts) simply turns and hitches up her habit after finishing her speech.Other aspects are less subtle. Between each scene, people fill the stage and dance, or headdown to the beach in 1940s swimwear. Franks has also taken the decision to add some newsongs as cabaret numbers, utilising the captivating voice of Anna-Jane Casey who plays theCourtesan. Some of these do involve additional modern words such as Is what Im feelingthe Real McCoy?, while extra spoken lines include references to Clark Gable and the Seven Dwarfs.

All this only works, however, because the heart of the play is kept pure. The acting issuperb, as Daniel Weyman and Daniel Llewelyn-Williams as Antipholus of Syracuse andEphesus respectively, and Joseph Kloska and Josh Cohen as the two Dromios, succeed inkeeping up the pretence throughout. They, and Jo Herbert as Adriana and Sophie Robertsas Luciana, really make us believe that the situation they are in is confusing them beyondbelief, and that they have no inkling of why everybody has suddenly turned mad.

In the second half, it sometimes feels as if things might go too far as gorillas grace thestage and the ensemble suddenly burst into a jive in the midst of a chase. The large openair performance space, however, enables the production to cope with such deviations,with the result that this Comedy of Errors is a triumph in getting it right.

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