Writer: William Shakespeare
Director: Nicola Samer
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott
Shakespeare did love a good mistaken identity plot, more often than not with female characters disguising themselves as men, but this was usually a means to an end, helping them to win the man they love. However, The Comedy of Errors makes that its main focus, creating a convoluted tale of confusion that mixes up two sets of identical twins. Raise Your Voice Theatre Company attempts to simplify Shakespeare’s plot with a full throttle 55-minute show featuring seven actors playing 20 characters.
Twins, both named Antipholus and their man servants, both named Dromio, are separated at birth and end up living entirely different lives in Syracuse and Ephesus, cities that forbid any interchange with one another. In defiance, Antipholus of Syracuse visits the rival city only to be mistaken by the locals for his unknown twin. What follows is a series of farcical entanglements that cause havoc for the four men and plenty of confusion for the town.
This company’s approach is full of energy and enjoyment of the ludicrousness of Shakespeare’s plot. Director Nicola Samer keeps control of the escalating muddles while ensuring the audience understands what’s happened even when the characters don’t. The tone is consistently just silly enough to sustain it for an hour without becoming too self-conscious, and the play has been slimmed down to a burst of quick-fire Shakespeare.
Arguably, a little too much has been excised from the text, so some of the secondary characters do become a little hazy. The company utilises light costume changes or hold empty hats aloft to indicate an extra character’s presence but, ironically for a mistaken identity drama, among the wider cast it’s not always clear who’s who, and some familiarity with the original play may be necessary to keep track of what’s actually going on.
Yet, among the two sets of twins, despite having very little physical resemblance, the misunderstandings are perfectly clear and delivered to humorous effect. Alex Chard, as Dromio of Syracuse, has a natural comic timing, while Dom Byrne’s Antipholus of Syracuse speaks the verse with impressive clarity while emphasising his increasing bewilderment. The Ephesus team of George Lewarne as Antipholus and Johnny Thomas-Davies as Dromio are deliberately more exaggerated than their long-lost brothers, which makes for a nice contrast, while the violent encounters between masters and servants are convincingly done.
It’s also nice to see feisty performances from Georgia Andrews as Adriana (wife of Antipholus of Ephesus) and Alice Smith as her sister Luciana, which with reasonably little material managed to hint at a long-standing fractious relationship between the siblings and a disgruntled married life that added a nice texture to the comedy plots.
There are a number of things in the production that could be better utilised and, as with many Shakespeare productions, this one suffers from the pointless period setting. Nominally we are in the 1930s, but this doesn’t add anything to the story and the costumes are a mix of Edwardian and 1950s, while a Barbershop Quartet-like musical opening that doesn’t add anything and no further music until a Globe-style semi-jig at the end.
This company has taken an innovative approach and utilises a number of techniques, including a nice shadow puppet moment to convey the key plot points. Despite the extended character confusion, it is a fun and entertaining romp through one of Shakespeare’s less frequently performed comedies.
Reviewed on 3 October 2016 (then Hens &Chickens on 5 October) | Image: Contributed