Writer: William Shakespeare
Director: Edward Hall
Reviewer: Jim Gillespie
All male company Propeller are at the Lyceum Theatre in Sheffield this week with two productions, alternating the generally gentle romance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, with the near-slapstick Comedy of Errors. Propeller have built up a loyal fan base for their energetic, physical takes on the Shakespeare canon, and they will have only added to that following by these productions.
Shakespeare threw the kitchen sink into Comedy of Errors. Not one, but two sets of estranged identical twins, separated at birth, turn up in the same city 25 years later. This is Ephesus twinned with 1980’s Benidorm: cheesy, brazen, loud and lewd. Music pumps the show along, and sound effects create a constant backdrop to supplement the frenzy of the convoluted plot. Mistaken identities, misunderstandings, mishaps and mayhem – the staples of Elizabethan comedy taken to the extreme.
If Shakespeare gave us Elizabethan comic farce at force 10, Propeller turn it up to 11 by adding some extra spice of their own manufacture. Purists might lament some of the liberties taken with the text, but Shakespeare never had much time for puritans, and the audience at the Lyceum loved the license with which Propeller enlivened the original. They revel in the carnival atmosphere created by the on stage chorus Mariachi band, which, during the interval, sustained the fiesta in the bar with a riotous mix of ’80’s school disco favourites.
For many, the most memorable musical interlude came after the interval, when the Spanish policeman (costume courtesy of the Village People, with kazoo enhanced leather trousers) serenaded an audience member with a Spanglais-Mariachi version of Spandau Ballet’s “True”. It had nothing to do with Shakespeare, but it was full-on entertainment. Inter-action with the audience is one of Propeller’s strengths.
This was Shakespeare with knobs on. While some liberties were taken to tweak some of the text for a contemporary relevance, most of these were handled with respect. More liberties were taken with the Conjurer, Pinch, who is turned into a hilarious southern preacher with a backing chorus stolen from Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show. Part of me squirmed, but most of me howled with laughter.
The acting, particularly that of the two sets of twins, was perfectly weighted. The delight in an all male comedy production is the scope it gives to play the women’s parts as larger than life versions of the originals. The female characters here are as over the top as the Geordie Courtesan’s cantilevered bosoms. Not least Alasdair Craig in the cameo rôle of the Abbess, Aemelia, who managed to walk the tightrope between Sister Wimple and Miss Whiplash while tottering on purple platform stilettos. James Tucker, playing Adriana, stole several scenes as the deserted diva wife, but others were guilty of similar thefts. Fight scenes were clowning rather than stage-fighting, but this was cartoon violence, so it scarcely mattered.
The set was simple, but very effective. Shutters sprayed with graffiti tags formed an appropriately urban backdrop, and had enough flexibility – used imaginatively – to create all the spaces required for the plot to develop. Lighting was similarly unobtrusive, if a little stark. Costumes were generally restrained, except for the more exotic female characters, where a touch of Danny la Rue sometimes intruded. That should not be taken as a criticism.
Propeller created a joyous evening’s entertainment. It was enormous fun from start to finish.
Reviewed on: 31st January