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A CurtainUp London London Review
The Comedy of Errors and Richard III

If you did wed my sister for her wealth,     
Then for her wealth's sake use her with more kindness:     
Or if you like elsewhere, do it by stealth;     
Muffle your false love with some show of blindness:     
Let not my sister read it in your eye;     
Be not thy tongue thy own shame's orator;     
Look sweet, be fair, become disloyalty;
— Luciana
Richard  III
The company in Richard III
(Photo: Manuel Harlan)
Edward Hall has brought two productions from his all male theatre company Propeller to Hampstead Theatre: The Comedy of Errors and Richard III. What could possibly connect them, other than their being from the same period of Shakespeare's writing, I have no idea but please write in if you have an inkling.

Hall's Comedy of Errors I found a delight, real comedy without the point being laboured the way Tudor comedy can sometimes appear to us more than four hundred years after Shakespeare wrote it. As my colleague, Jenny Sandman Boomershine described this production when it was seen last month in Boston, the play is set in a South American town with a wonderful contribution from the cast as a mariachi band. Although many of the Propeller company are quite well known to me I found it impossible to identify them individually in the band due to their wearing large sombreros and sunglasses which, along with the rhythmic music gave the whole enterprise an air of excitement and carnival. This coupled with Dominic Tighe's leather trousered, crowd pleasing, interacting policeman and the audience are involved and engaged.

Outstanding in the cast is Robert Hands as Adriana wife of Antipholus of Ephesus (Sam Swainsbury) who convinces in his female part without resorting to a drag performance despite some oversized eyelashes and plenty of leopard skin fabric and bling. At the end of the play, when the gift of the gold necklace secures the reconciliation with her husband, Adriana smiled a genuinely delighted smile and the audience said "Ah!" also really enjoyable is David Newman's portrayal of Adriana's shyer, more conventional and plainer spinster sister Luciana giving lovely contrast and mixed feelings as she thinks she is the object of her brother in law's affection. One of my fellow critics found the reincarnation of the twins' mother Aemilia (Chris Myles) as a brothel Lady Abbess harder to accept but to me it seemed all part of the fun. I loved the entrance of Dr Pinch (Tony Bell) leading us in a mock rock religious revival. The Dromios (Richard Frame and Jon Trenchard) are a delight as are Dugald Bruce Lockhart and Sam Swainsbury as their twin masters. Hall's direction is impeccable with quick fire switches adding to the mistaken identities and the verse spoken as lucidly as could be. This is as fresh and involving a Comedy of Errors as one could hope to see. I found myself enjoying this early play more than ever before.

Propeller's Richard III will inevitably prompt comparison with Kevin Spacey playing the hunchback king in Sam Mendes' production for the Bridge Project in London. Ed Hall's Richard III is a bloody, sinister scientific affair. Set in the nineteenth century behind hanging polythene screens with characters masked with white face masks in the shape of, but not the fabric of, gas masks, the introductory scene is as anonymous as that of The Comedy of Errors but whereas that was welcoming and involving, this is spine tingling and chilling .

Hanging from a grid above the stage are a selection of hand tools, drills and hammers which will not be used in the conventional way. I had a strange feeling that we were seeing an amalgam of The Cabinet of Dr Caligari and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Certainly the masked, white coated messengers armed with baseball bats sent at the end of the interval to chase us back to the auditorium gave a frisson of excitement last felt in Punchdrunk's production in Manchester when I was pursued down a maze with a man wielding a chain saw.

Richard Clothier has a tall presence as white blonde Richard the ambitious utterly ruthless and heartless villain. One leg is in leg irons and one arm a stump. The women are played by men in skirts but with no headdress or wig concessions to femininity. Dominic Tighe is Edward IV's widow Elizabeth, stately and dignified; her children the tiny princes are surprisingly touching puppets looking up at their mother.

There is church music sung in Latin for death scenes and the coronation and English folk music elsewhere. The parade of the dead stepping out of body bags has tremendous impact and the ancestor of Shakespeare's patroness, Henry Tudor (Robert Hands) triumphs over Richard at the battle of Bosworth Field. This stylishly macabre Richard III is not for the faint hearted or the squeamish but will be long remembered.

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The Comedy of Errors and Richard III
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Edward Hall

With: Richard Clothier, John Dougall, Robert Hands, Dominic Tighe, Kelsey Brookfield, Thomas Padden, Dugald Bruce-Lockhart, Jon Trenchard, Chris Myles, Tony Bell, David Newman, Sam Swainsbury, Richard Frame, Wayne Cater
Design: Michael Pavelka
Lighting: Ben Ormerod
Music by Propeller
Additional Arrangements and Music by Jon Trenchard
Running time: Two hours 45 minutes with one interval
Box Office: 020 7722 9301
Booking to 9th July 2011
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 24th June 2011 performances at Hampstead Theatre, Eton Avenue, London NW3 3EU (Tube: Swiss Cottage)

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