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The Comedy of Errors – New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham

Director: Edward Hall

Writer: William Shakespeare

Reviewer: George Attwell Gerhards

Propeller’s approach to Shakespeare is refreshingly unique. Watching one of their productions is, I can only imagine, like watching Shakespeare on drugs. The pace is incredibly fast, the colours and sounds striking and unexpected and the performances are imbued with a sense of playfulness and electricity. This style naturally suits the Bard’s lighter comedies best (this production of The Comedy of Errors in being toured in rep with A Midsummer Night’s Dream) but it may be surprising to discover that in the company’s history they gave Henry V and Richard III a go too. With The Comedy of Errors they have struck gold.

The title is very self-explanatory. Two sets of twins, identical but long since estranged, end up in the same town where hilarity ensues as the locals, and then they themselves, mistake one for another again and again. A simple premise, Shakespeare masterfully finds new ways to take the farce further and further into the ridiculous as more and more of the townsfolk come into contact with, and are ultimately confused by, the principle four.

Edward Hall and his designer Michael Pavelka make a brave and interesting decision to set their comedy in a Spanish holiday-resort-cum-back-end-of-nowhere town where an ensemble of sombrero sporting; 80s football shirt wearing musicians spectate the action. They accompany the important moments with chimes and whistles, layering every scene with energy which is equally matched by the physical performances of the astounding cast. Pick of the bunch is probably Matthew McPherson as Dromio of Ephesus who bounds around the stage, thrown to the floor by Antipholus’ beatings. His rising frustration with every time he has to deny something is joyful to watch; after all the essence of farce is pain – something this production understands perfectly.

Another of Propeller’s signature styles is busking in the interval; making an event or a performance out of the interval. It is rare that the interval being one of the best bits of the show makes more a positive comment, but in this case it must be said. A mariachi band of 80s covers and a personal Spanglish rendition of Spandau Ballet’s True left the audience in hysterics.

That said, it’s not perfect. Propeller, as an all-male company, does have a problem presenting female characters. Matthew Pearson as the Courtesan epitomises the issue – dragging up with bunny ears and big breasts. Furthermore, Alasdair Craig as Aemilia the Abbess comes on in fishnets (!) and a (very) short skirt.

Still, this remains a thoroughly enjoyable and unique production of one of Shakespeare’s funniest and silliest plays. The marriage between the text and Propeller’s style is absolutely perfect in this instance – well worth a watch.

Runs until 7th June

Director: Edward Hall Writer: William Shakespeare Reviewer: George Attwell Gerhards Propeller’s approach to Shakespeare is refreshingly unique. Watching one of their productions is, I can only imagine, like watching Shakespeare on drugs. The pace is incredibly fast, the colours and sounds striking and unexpected and the performances are imbued with a sense of playfulness and electricity. This style naturally suits the Bard’s lighter comedies best (this production of The Comedy of Errors in being toured in rep with A Midsummer Night’s Dream) but it may be surprising to discover that in the company’s history they gave Henry V and Richard…

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The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.