July 02, 2013

Double the fun with the Bard

Adelaide Theatre

The Comedy of Errors
by William Shakespeare
State Theatre Company and Bell Shakespeare
Dunstan Playhouse
Adelaide Festival Centre.
July 2. Tickets $ 25 – $ 65
Bookings: BASS 131 246,
Until July 14.

Shakespeare’s comedies are full of tricks, dupes and misunderstandings. His characters frequently use disguise, subterfuge and illusion to create confusion. Appearances are altered to remedy injustice, take revenge and, often, to bring the misguided and the wrongheaded to their senses. But only his first play, The Comedy of Errors, operates totally without guile or deliberate deception; its mayhem occurs when innocent characters are left spinning in a world of chance, coincidence, ill luck, and eventually, good fortune.

Basing his comedy on Menaechmi, by the Roman playwright Plautus, Shakespeare takes the story of twin brothers separated in infancy by a shipwreck and multiplies the fun by adding estranged twin servants to accompany the mix-up. And don’t ask why both sets of twins have the same name and dress identically – it doesn’t bear scrutiny. The fascination is in the momentum of its escalating farce and the rapid, surreal, and not entirely funny, disintegration of the characters’ sense of reality.

In Imara Savage’s frisky, immensely enjoyable production, a joint venture from State Theatre and Bell Shakespeare, Ephesus has a Kings Cross vibe. Scene changes are heralded by David Heinrich’s vibrant electronica and designer Pip Runciman’s costumes are urban hip-hop – the servants Dromio wear tartan hoodies and trainers, the twins Antipholus (is that Antipholi ?) skinny casuals and Raybans. With their big handbags, stilettos and bling, the wives, sisters, mistress/girlfriends are extreme Kardashian.

The set, neatly designed to play in 31 different city and regional venues across the country, consists of a row of eight pairs of folding doors operating either as impediments or portals to the play’s many secrets. In the opening scene they represent immigration detention for Egeon, the father trying to find his lost sons, at other times, trimmed with neon, they are sleazy nightclubs, or – tinted with Mark Pennington’s delectable lighting – they become apartments and a transcendental priory. The doors also swing both ways to create maximum slapstick action as the characters take 105 minutes to discover that dopplegangers and body doubles are sharing the same turf.

The performances are fast, funny and assured. From Eugene Gilfedder’s lucid opening speech as Egeon, the first scenes with Nathan O’Keefe and Renato Musolino (both outstanding as the boys from Syracuse) to the ditzy exchanges between sisters Adriana and Luciana (Elena Carapetis and Jude Henshall) this comedy is brimming with invention, warmth and energy. Not everything should be hostage to a laugh though. Making Suzannah McDonald’s Prioress a send-up of BBC-TV‘s Sister Wendy is fine, but it weakens the ceremonial resolution and impact of Emelia’s final speech when it is all lisp and snaggle teeth.

Murray Bramwell

Published in slightly abridged form as “Double the fun with the Bard” The Australian, July 4, 2013, p.13.

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