Writer: William Shakespeare
Director: Poppy Burton-Morgan
Reviewer: Ben Miller-Jarvest
The Comedy of Errors is the play in which Shakespeare veers the closest to outright farce, including as it does, two sets of identical twins who both have the same name and who end up wearing the same clothes. Needless to say, shenanigans ensue, and a policeman, a hot-tempered wife, a magician and a nun are all added to the mix before the chaos is resolved, lovers are paired off and the audience – at this production at least – are sent home grinning from ear to ear.
Given the farcical nature of the play and the outdoor setting of this production, director Poppy Burton-Morgan takes it one step further and sets the action within a circus, with the Duke as the ringmaster and many of the characters as performers in the ring. Clearly, this plays fast and loose with Shakespeare’s original, but Jean Chan’s set – a ring and podium in the centre, with backdrop painted in big-top stripes, painted caravan to one side and musician’s tent to the other, all bright enough to illuminate the gloomiest evening – immediately sets the tone for an irreverent and joyful production. So too does the original song that begins the show, which manages to be both twee and catchy.
What follows is a gently anarchic evening, full of wild, unchoreographed chases through the audience and comedy pratfalls, in which the cast display an extraordinary range of skills. In addition to the acting, there is singing, dancing, the playing of a wide variety of instruments including accordions and kazoos, clowning, acrobatics and even some basic fire performance. Much of this content was a little rough around the edges, but this only added to the fun; indeed, it is made clear early on that ‘The Circus of Ephesus’ with which we are presented is not a particularly good circus.
In what is essentially an ensemble piece, all of the actors do an excellent job of keeping the joyous energy going, and preventing lengthy scenes from slackening and stagnating. The overall vision of the play is not one that allows for much nuance in the acting; indeed some performances seem rather overblown to begin with until the broad, larger-than-life style became apparent. Perhaps the best example of this is Jennifer Ruth-Adams’ impassioned, knife-wielding Adrianna – wife to one twin – who initially seems too fiery and hysterical to be believed. As the production wears on and the chaos mounts, however, her performance falls perfectly in line with the overall tone and is one of the elements that one looks back on with the biggest smile.
Despite the challenges of performing outside, most of the actors are perfectly clear at all times; there are, however, a couple of softer moments in which words are lost, which is somewhat of a shame.
Overall, this inventive, irreverent, fun and slightly clunky show. The Comedy of Errors makes for a joyous evening and succeeds in making Shakespeare entertaining for all ages.
Runs until 30 July 2017 | Image: Contributed
Don’t forget that this production moves to Torre Abbey, Torquay and Knackershole Barn, Dulverton after the run at Rougement Gardens ends.