Writer: William Shakespeare
Director: Amir Nizar Zuabi
Reviewer: Ian Foster
The endless whirl of festivals continues apace with the return of the RSC to its adopted London home at the Roundhouse. As part of the World Shakespeare Festival, which in turn is part of the London 2012 Festival, the RSC’s Shipwreck Trilogy brings together one company and two directors over three plays which are bound together through their similarities, entitled What Country Friends Is This?. First up is Palestinian director Amir Nizar Zuabi’s take on The Comedy of Errors, a fresh and frenetic romp through the play which, while it may lack some poetry, has been invested with a great energy.
Ruled over by a maniacal gun-toting Duke, it is instantly clear that this Ephesus is a dangerous place in which the threat of death is ever-present and a genuine reality. Onto a grim looking quayside, Antipholus and Dromio of Syracuse are deposited as illegal immigrants in the elusive search for their twin brothers from whom they were separated in a shipwreck. Unbeknownst to them, they’ve alighted in the right place but almost immediately they are mistaken for their Ephesan brothers and brings into motion a hectic tale of misunderstandings and madcap capers.
Nizar Zuabi has woven in an unmistakeably dark strand of thought into this production but though a constant presence, it rarely makes its presence deeply felt (initial water torture aside). Instead, it is the physical comedy that rises to the forefront, led by two excellent performances from Felix Hayes and Bruce MacKinnon as the Dromios, clearly of a pair but neatly differentiated too in their varying relations with their masters. Jonathan McGuinness and Stephen Hagan as the Antipholuses (Antipholi?) were more of the straight men against these performances though still strong in a large ensemble which swirled effectively across and around the stage.
At times, it does feel like the compression of the play has reduced the impact of some of the supporting characters, though Jonathan Slinger’s grim, electrode-wielding Pinch stands out. But one further pleasing result of the cuts is to foreground the character of Adriana more than usual in this man-heavy play, and if Kirsty Bushell perhaps plays the shrieking harridan card a little too strongly at times, it is never less than entirely watchable, especially when counterpointed by Emily Taaffe’s sweeter Luciana.
Jon Bausor’s staging, cranes are obviously his theme for the year following on from his Open Air Theatre design, makes inventive use of the space and the suspension of Adriana’s salon in the air is inspired. And the cumulative impact of the production is one which proves successful. Undoubtedly, there have been funnier examples, ones with greater emotional impact and there have been others which paid more thorough attention to the verse-speaking, but those three elements are still present here and skilfully combined to rambunctious, raucous effect.