Pop-up Globe, September 8
This is to The Comedy of Errors what The Life of Brian was to the New Testament. Okay, so the New Testament wasn’t quite as gag-laden to begin with, but Miles Gregory’s production shares a similar intent to maximise the silliness of every event, and The Comedy of Errors was already Shakespeare’s zaniest play. Making Plautus’s source material look sensible by comparison, it compounds coincidences and improbabilities until the humour is gouged from complete impossibilities.
Any reader unfamiliar with the plot will think it April Fool’s Day to be told of two pairs of twins separated at infancy, one pair both called Antipholus and other Dromio, who wind up in Ephesus, dressed identically, each twin unaware of his double’s existence. To make their voices nearly as identical as their clothing, Gregory has them bung on American accents.
So off we hurtle into the mad world of the audience always being three steps ahead of the poor sods blundering about the stage. The wonder of seeing it in the Pop-up Globe is the sheer immediacy of the action and consequent involvement of the audience – especially the groundlings standing before the stage, who are swiftly schooled to hiss, cheer and repeat lines by rote, as if watching a Christmas panto.
This is one of the season’s two works in which female roles are actually played by women, and Romy Hooper (Adriana), Serena Cotton (Luciana), Amanda Billing (Emilia) and Mia Landgren (Courtesan) stand out in terms of milking the available laughs without having to curdle them as well.
Slapstick is rampant, as are other sight gags, musical witticisms (live underscoring being used extensively with great charm), anachronistic quips, and jokes allusive to films and other plays. The farcical sequence in which Antipholus (Jason Will) and Dromio (Ryan Bennett) of Ephesus struggle to enter to their own house against a determined Dromio of Syracuse (Blake Kubena) becomes epic. Yet somehow the high Shakespearian comedy of Dromio of Syracuse describing the other Dromio’s wife to Antipholus of Syracuse (Hugh Sexton) fails to reach its full hilarity, being too drawn out.
Genuine laugh-out-loud moments mingle with less convincing sequences or overly-laboured jokes, so that while thoroughly entertained, one senses the production would be funnier if 15 minutes quicker. Shakespeare’s comedies can challenge contemporary audiences more than his tragedies, but most senses of humour will find much amusement here.
Until October 20.