Two sets of identical twins (two masters, two servants), two named Antipholus and the other two Dromio, all unknowingly end up in the same city having been separated in a shipwreck twenty five years previously. Sounds a bit confusing? But this co-production by Fine Frenzy and The Nottingham New Theatre, directed by Gus Miller, turns this typical Renaissance comedy into a very accessible play. It was also produced as an experiment, where the actors only had 48 hours to rehearse, as they would have had in Shakespeare’s time. The play therefore results in something both frenzied and natural, and perfectly reflects the tone of this chaotic comedy of mistaken identity.
A Shakespearean clown with a modern twist, Ben Williamson makes an impact in the opening to the play, dancing about the stage in a onesie, engaging the audience in participation and then acting the context of the story- the shipwreck and the broken family- using a toy box. He also acknowledges the prompt (Assistant Director Dave Porter), sitting in an armchair next to the stage, which gave him a comic presence from the start and meant the few instances where ‘the man with all the words’ was needed fit seamlessly into the comic flow of action. But these moments were scarce; all the actors delivered the Shakespearean language fluently. With their effortless nature aiding the audience’s understanding, this was especially useful with the Antipholus of Syracuse (Chris Walters), Dromio of Syracuse (Jack Holden), Antipholus of Ephesus (Sam Warren) and Dromio of Ephesus (Aaron Tej) all running about the stage!
The stage was bare throughout, with just two doors, marked at the start by the fool as ‘The Phoenix’ and ‘The Porcupine’, which were sufficient to set the scene. The minimal staging left the space clear for all the physical comedy the play relies on – full on fights between servant and master, mass falling over, arrests and escapes. The production is therefore very loyal to the slapstick content of this early Shakespearean comedy and the addition of props like sponge swords and a slinky to tie up the ‘madmen’ simply adds to this tone. The cast, however, are the real substance of the humour- every actor displays fantastic comic timing and gestures.
At a short running time of just under 90 minutes, this production maintains a comic pace throughout and there is never a dull moment! This play is perfect for some light relief from revision or to enjoy your freedom. As the blurb on the Nottingham New Theatre website suggests: ‘Things could go horribly wrong. Or they could go horribly, horribly right’. I think it is clear this production of The Comedy of Errors pulled off the latter.
Image: Nottingham New Theatre
The Comedy of Errors runs until Friday 7th June at Nottingham New Theatre. To book tickets email: [email protected]