Writer: William Shakespeare
Director: Edward Hall
Reviewer: Edie Ranvier
The Comedy of Errors, Shakespeare’s Plautian farce about twins and mistaken identity, has been neatly twinned by all-male theatre company Propeller in a matched pair with A Midsummer Night’s Dream in this, their current tour. But these twin shows, unlike the Dromios and Antipholuses who confuse the action of the play, aren’t identical, and The Comedy of Errors is definitely the stronger, handsomer one: a madcap romp where the energy doesn’t let up even at the interval.
Propeller have proved in this tour that they’ve got a special talent for staging chaos and they’re in their element with The Comedy of Errors, whose plot, for all its rigorous artistic structure, is a maelstrom of creative craziness. Twin boys (both called Antipholus), their twin servants (both called Dromio), and their parents, have been sundered in a shipwreck by a wonderfully unlikely mast manoeuvre.
The search for his brother brings one grown-up Antipholus (Dan Wheeler) to Ephesus, where, unbeknownst to him, his twin (Joseph Chance) is living. Madness and mayhem ensue as the local punters, including his brother’s wife (James Tucker) and her sister Luciana (Arthur Wilson) mistake the visiting Antipholus for the resident one. Throw in their twin manservants (Will Featherstone and Matthew McPherson, who manage to make their not-very-similar appearances into an extra comic facet), and you’ve got the makings of two hours of perfect, anarchic confusion.
The company keeps the action fast and slick, with rapid door-slamming entrances and exits, and some super quick-fire dialogue: Matthew McPherson’s Dromio arguing with himself is a particular high point. The interactions between Adriana (James Tucker), the put-upon wife of the Ephesian Antipholus, and Dan Wheeler’s Syracusan twin, have the audience laughing uproariously and sympathising as well: “Sorry about her”, mouths an embarrassed Wheeler to the stalls as the towering Tucker launches upon him with tears and reproaches. And Will Featherstone’s Syracusan Dromio gets one of the biggest laughs of the night as he paces the stage, measuring out with horror the girth of an unseen kitchen maid who has mistakenly claimed him as her husband.
Propeller’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream may have tailed off a bit in the second half, but their Comedy of Errors does the opposite, rising to a fitting, side-splitting climax post-interval thanks to Darrell Brockis’ cameo as an evangelical all-singing Dr Pinch, and a brilliant sequence with Joseph Chance and Matthew McPherson in wheelie bins.
The Ephesus conjured up by director Edward Hall and designer Michael Pavelka is a seedy holiday resort, with its own resident Mexican Chorus of sombrero’d mariachis who greet the incoming audience with cries of “Buenas Nachos [sic!], señor!”, and gasp and exclaim in unison as the principles bicker. They alchemise even the interval into comic gold as Richard Pepper’s dodgy moustachioed police officer gets down on one knee in squeaky leather trousers to serenade a girl in the front row (“chHelen, I seeng to you and together we will move to chHemel chHempstead!”).
In fact, musical director Jon Trenchard has fun with the soundtrack throughout. The second half of the play is dominated by a plot thread about a gold chain commissioned by one Antipholus and delivered to the other. Trenchard teams each mention of the word “chain” with a ting on a glockenspiel, adding a musical element to the cacophonous confusion as the arguments about the necklace rise to a frenzy.
It’s one of many mischievous creative touches that set the spirit of this feel-good production, and leave you certain that the cast are having as much fun as the audience.
Runs until 19 April