Thursday, October 31, 2013

Comedy of Errors

Imara Savage - Director
The Comedy of Errors by William Shakespeare.  Bell Shakespeare and State Theatre Company of South Australia directed by Imara Savage; designer Pip Runciman; lighting designer, Mark Pennington; composer & sound designer, David Heinrich; physical comedy consultant, Scott Witt.  Canberra Theatre Playhouse, October 30 – November 9, 2013-10-31

Reviewed by Frank McKone
October 30

I suspect that William Shakespeare’s move from staid and sensible Stratford-on-Avon to lewd, lascivious and libellous London paved the way for the horror faced by Antipholus and his stolid, mercantile merchant father from Syracuse when they landed in energetic, excessive, sexually-charged Ephesus.  It must have been quite a revelation for Shakespeare to discover that his London of 1593 was not very different from what Plautus, some 100-200 years BC, had already described in his fictional Greek city of Epidamnum, in his play Menaechmi.

So for us it is a wonder to see the brilliance of Shakespeare’s words reveal how little different is the world of, say, Sydney’s Kings Cross after another 420 years.  Like Plautus, Shakespeare understood that a farcical treatment was the only way to come to terms with both the light and dark sides of such a community.  In this Comedy of Errors, Savage Witt is brought to bear with unerring aim.

To follow my line of thinking you need a copy of the wonderful program with its extensive background to the production.  It adds enormously to the satisfaction of seeing the play to read, far beyond the usual plot synopsis and director’s notes, source quotes and essays on comedy, farce, Plautus, Shakespeare’s Ephesus, the place of the classics, Kings Cross as explained by Louis Nowra, The Comedy of Errors as explained by Andy McLean, more details on Shakespeare’s sources, and the concept drawings of the characters by Pip Runciman.

The result on stage is near perfection.  Every nuance of Shakespeare’s intention in each line spoken and each action taken by each character is brought into a shining spotlight.  Now it is absolutely clear that this is not a young playwright’s immature imitation of a Latin classic.  This is farce precisely performed to the point of satire of human society.

The casting is exquisite.  The make-up and the costuming of the two sets of identical twins is so well done that, until the final scene, it was hard to believe that there were four actors rather than two doubling up the roles.  The set consisting of even more doors across the stage than I have ever thought possible – and added to by left and right entrances upstage and downstage – made this necessary element of stage farce into a character in its own right.  And no-one will ever forget props like the sun-tan machine, the hot electric iron and especially the washing machine and its sudsy servant Dromio – a scene which can justifiably claim the loudest laugh of the night.

There has been a long tradition in Australian acting of rumbustious physical theatre, fully endorsed by Bell Shakespeare and training at NIDA and in all the institutions since the 1960s, which comes to a peak of entertainment and theatrical maturity in this production of The Comedy of Errors.

If you can’t get to see it in Canberra, you have one more chance at the Sydney Opera House Playhouse from November 12 to December 7 – the last of 32 venues in the Playing Australia touring program.  Do your best not to miss it – and don’t forget to buy a program.
Renato Musolino, Nathan O'Keefe, Septimus Caton, Hazem Shammas as Dromio and Antipholus of Syracuse and Dromio and Antipholus of Ephesus, with Demetrios Sirilas as Angelo (upstage)

Nathan O'Keefe (Antipholus of Syracuse) with Jude Henshall as Luciana
Suzannah McDonald as Courtesan
Elena Carapetis as Adriana, Eugene Gilfedder as Dr Pinch, with Jude Henshall and Suzannah McDonald.    Anthony Taufa (not pictured) played The Duke and Balthasar.  Suzannah McDonald also played Emelia.  Eugene Gilfedder also played Egeon.     All photos by Matt Nettheim   

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