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A CurtainUp London London Review
TheComedy of Errors

Am I in earth, in heaven or in hell?
Sleeping or waking, mad or well-advised?
Known unto these, and myself disguis'd!
I'll say as they say, and persever so,
And in this mist at all adventures go.

---- Antipholus of Syracuse
The Comedy of Errors
Jonathan Slinger (Dromio of Syracuse), Forbes Masson (Dromio of Ephesus). Ellie Kurttz
(Photo: Ellie Kurttz)
Nancy Meckler's production of The Comedy of Errors is an aesthetic delight, full of visual surprises which realize the text in the most boisterous, entertaining ways. It might have seemed a risky decision for the Royal Shakespeare Company to produce this play which is often seen as simply an inferior precursor to Twelfth Night, so close to the more acknowledged masterpiece of twin-identity confusion. However, this production carves out The Comedy of Errors' own individuality in the most raucous yet stylised terms.

It is no surprise that Nancy Meckler has successfully worked with the designer Katrina Lindsay in the past. Here, the direction and design complement each other thoroughly which adds an immeasurable sense of conviction to the production as a whole. Its approach is exaggerated and stylishly non-naturalistic. Sometimes, it slides into downright preposterousness but, with an abundance of energy and humour, the cast pull it off.

The town of Ephesus is incarnated like a sequence from a Tim Burton animation. Darkly cartoonish, the crowds are dressed in brightly coloured, Dickensian scruffiness. There are loud stripes, brushed velvet, ragged cuffs, excessive wigs, garishly mixed patterns and barrel-bellied extras. The bustling, otherworldly atmosphere acts like an onstage realisation of the characters' confusion. The set itself is a reminder of the shipwreck which was the catalyst for the play's conundrum: the separation of the twins. Tall, askew beams and ripped sails provide a backdrop for the action, with a central, tantalising glimpse of blue sky.

Within this design, Nancy Meckler's superb direction is just as imaginative and exuberant. The play is full of mistaken tirades, exasperating inconsistencies, and deceptive reality. Repetition and tedium of these similar sequences are avoided, however, with flamboyant variety. For example, there are feet-stamping contests, bread rolls are lobbed, while punches and blows are underlined by overblown sound effects. Textual obscurities and slightly more abstruse passages are explicated with ingenious, often bawdy, gestures. The slapstick and farce is evidence of Nancy Meckler's skill in manipulating physical acting to maximum effect, as we have become accustomed to in her Shared Experience productions.

The two set of twins are incredibly well-cast. For once, Dromio of Ephesus (Forbes Masson) can exclaim to Dromio of Syracuse (Jonathan Slinger) 'Methinks you are my glass, and not my brother' without embarrassment. There were powerful performances from Christopher Colquhoun and Joe Dixon as the Antipholus twins, the one reacting to the inexplicable events with infuriation, the other tending to fearful paranoia at the apparent sorcery. I also enjoyed Suzanne Burden's Adriana, the shrewish but true wife, and in particular her fantastic rant against her errant husband: "He is deformed, crooked, old and sere, /Ill-faced, worse bodied, shapeless everywhere;/ Vicious, ungentle, foolish, blunt, unkind…"

It is rare that this play, which seems a bit uninspiring on the page, should be produced so well. The bewilderment is delicious, maybe a little silly in places, but carried out with such mischievous energy, that it is entirely excusable. This is a truly entertaining, lively production which simply exudes spirit.
Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Nancy Meckler

With: Christopher Colquhoun, Forbes Masson, Suzanne Burden, Sinéad Keenan, Bettrys Jones, Kevin Trainor, Richard Cordery, Joe Dixon, Jonathan Slinger, Frances Jeater, Neil McKinven, Christopher Robert, Christopher Obi, Oscar Pearce, Geoffrey Lumb, Diveen Henry, Tom Hodgkins, Alice Barclay, Eke Chukwu, Stewart F. Fraser
Design: Katrina Lindsay
Lighting: Tim Mitchell
Music: Ilona Sekacz
Sound: Andrea J. Cox
Movement: Liz Ranken
Running time: Two hours twenty-five minutes with one interval
Box Office: 0870 950 0940
Booking to 28th January 2006
Reviewed by Charlotte Loveridge based on 10th January performance at the Novello, Aldwych, London WC2 (Tube: Covent Garden)
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©Copyright 2006, Elyse Sommer.
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