Writer: William Shakespeare
Directors: Ben Horslen &John Risebero
Composer/Musical Director: Nick Barstow
Reviewer: Michael Gray
Sir Francis Walsingham, Good Queen Bess’s Spymaster, was not amused. Sitting (for his portrait) in the back of the audience, he stared impassively at the frantic antics of the farceurs charging around the ancient hall – the very space, in fact, where Shakespeare’s briefest play was first performed by “a company of base and common fellows” back in 1594.
The rest of the capacity crowd, though, enjoyed this fast-paced and physical musical version of The Comedy of Errors, drawing its inspiration from the 1959 classic Some Like It Hot. Not the first time it’s been given the song and dance treatment, of course, notably in Stratford some 40 years ago, and on Broadway before the war.
This new version, directed by Ben Horslen and John Riseboro, with Nick Barstow in charge of the music, is energetically done by a fine team of actor/musicians. The setting is the Bay of Ephesus Hotel in the ’20s, with the movable door to “The Phoenix Suite” the only piece of scenery.
Its mafioso owner, Solinus, is deliciously played by Philip Mansfield, who also gives us the hopeless cabaret “conjurer” Doctor Pinch. The hotel’s manager – Antipholus of Ephesus – and his bell-hop servant, Dromio, are the fine comedy duo of Alex Hooper and Keith Higinbotham, their banter during the warm-up a hint of delights to come. It seemed as if Higinbotham’s performance would be hard for his twin to match, but Andrew Venning steps smartly up to the mark with his brilliant kitchen wench stand-up routine.
A good pairing too, of Ellie Ann Lowe’s long-suffering Adriana and her bespectacled sister Giovanna Ryan, though when things get really lively the shrieking tends to blur the words. Louise Templeton (ukulele) is the nun Emilia, as well as Pinch’s glamorous assistant, and the Marilyn Monroe role (the Courtesan of the original) is beautifully taken by Susie Broadbent, singing – how could she not – I Wanna Be Loved By You.
The other Antipholus twin, amusingly confused by his reception in Ephesus, is William de Coverly, and Paul Sloss brings a touch of bling to his camp goldsmith, Angelo. Paul Croft has the long exposition as old Egeon – also the smartly uniformed Officer – and Scott Brookes is Joey Merchant, Solinus’ sinister side-kick.
And they all make up an impressive jazz band, with the sax obbligato in Through With Love a particular highlight. But before the two Dromios touchingly walk off sideways through the doorway and the band take their calls to a final reprise of Running Wild, we have a crazy chase, the hotel changing magically to the chapel, and even a fleeting moment with two men cross-dressed in coats and cloche hats…
Runs until 1 September 2016 | Image: Scott Rylander