William Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors is a complicated farce which stands the test of time.
Despite retaining much of the dated language from this early Shakespearian work, the State Theatre Company of South Australia (STCSA) in co-production with Bell Shakespeare have brought one of the Bard’s first attempts at comedy into our time.
Pip Runciman’s set is basic but wonderfully functional: a row of double doors at the back of the stage that could have originated anywhere from an airport terminal to a retail outlet to a large 3 star hotel. Several LED light signs overhead inform the audience they are alternately representing an immigration centre, a Kings Cross-esque streetscape and even a Roman Catholic Church – complete with a Sister Wendy character that proceeded to induce uncontrollable hysterics from a number of people in the audience. In fact, the general audience response to the 16th Century writing and its 21st century adaptation was quite wonderful. Waves of laughter rose and fell throughout the Dunstan Playhouse while the vagaries played out on stage.
The 16-plus parts Shakespeare originally wrote have been cut down to 10 actors and 13 roles for this production but for a comedy that’s over 400 years old that probably isn’t a bad thing. The mere fact a cynical and sophisticated 2013 audience can still belly laugh at its farcical nature is a testament not only to its original appeal but the entire cast, crew and the companies involved.
[pull_left]The mere fact a cynical and sophisticated 2013 audience can still belly laugh at its farcical nature is a testament not only to its original appeal but the entire cast, crew and the companies involved[/pull_left]
While the storyline is convoluted, it isn’t composed with anything near the density of Shakespeare’s later work. Everything here is up front and centre and while much is made of the notions of immigration (which does cut close to the bone in contemporary Australia), the script makes eternally hilarious use of mistaken identity (two sets of twins), coincidence, slapstick comedy, urgency and even physical theatre – something the actors completed with arresting perfection (a credit to Physical Comedy Consultant Scott Witt).
Lighting Designer Mark Pennington continues to impress, particularly with his use of colour in this production.
David Heinrich’s music not only productively assisted in setting up scenes but followed the comedy around (and around) without ever getting in the way of a good laugh.
Director Imara Savage’s decision to emphasise the script’s comic moments at the expense of its running plot worked a treat while maintaining an eye on modern situations (a nightclub, a tanning bed and two women talking over a washing machine). Savage might have improved the opening by editing its extended, and some say superfluous, opening sequences.
Nathan O’Keefe in the main role of Antipholus of Syracuse was engaging, charming and displayed a wonderful sense of comic timing.
Renato Musolino as his bogan sidekick, Dromio of Syracuse, played the role with an easy professionalism South Australian audiences have come to take for granted from him.
Elena Carapetis as Adriana, Septimus Caton as Antipolus of Ephesus, Hazem Shammas as Dromio of Ephesus, Jude Henshall as Luciana, Eugene Gilfedder as Egeon/Dr. Pinch, Anthony Taufa as Duke/Balthasar (clearly using Marlon Brando in The Godfather as a template for his playing of Duke), Demitrios Sirilas as Angelo and Suzannah McDonald as Courtesan/Emelia all shone bright in their roles on The Playhouse stage.
Playing for only 18 performances, STCSA’s CEO/Producer Rob Brookman and Artistic Director Geordie Brookman’s first marriage with Bell Shakespeare won’t last long but it does end happily.