THE COMEDY OF ERRORS
by William Shakespeare.
Olivier Theatre Upper Ground South Bank SE1 9PX In rep to 1 April 2012.
Runs 2hr 20min One interval.
Comedy admits its serious edge.
Featureless tenements tower over the Olivier stage. A gangster-style execution looks about to happen in an Ephesus backyard. And this is the Comedy or Errors? Some mistake, surely?
Like most updated settings, this mixes the ingenious and the unlikely. The near-featureless glass-fronted apartment block in the central Ephesus regeneration zone where Antipholus lives with his wife Adriana and her sister Luciana looks good, but the apartment’s geography is doubtful.
Young William Shakespeare was flexing his dramatic muscles in this play. But his qualities already showed through. Director Dominic Cooke emphasises them. Partly in the casting, which has the visitors, Antopholus’ twin brother from Syracuse, and his servant Dromio – identical twin to the one in Ephesus – played by Lenny Henry and Lucian Msamati.
Henry provides some comic eye-rolling and playing towards the audience, but never too much, and his comic skills make him excellent casting, while Msamati provides his Dromio with both the innocence of his twin and an extra degree of intensity.
It’s hard to believe anyone would confuse Henry with Chris Jarman’s solid, serious local Antipholus; but people believe what they see, however unlikely. And human elements fascinatingly emerge from the comic routines. Claudia Blakley shows the unhappiness of someone whose marriage seems suddenly undermined. And Michelle Terry brings a subtle unease as her brother-in-law, apparently, sets his sights on her.
Importantly the cast avoid the trap of rattling-off Shakespeare’s regular, rhyming verse. But Cooke’s triumph is the closing section, after the Antopholus antics are over. The sense of a town gone mad is there. But the final drawing-together of the play’s elements, usually a cause of semi-mocking laughter at its coincidences, is played without a laugh. Largely this is due to Pamela Nomvete’s abbess, impressively calm yet deeply-felt in her recognition scene.
It makes sense: Duke Solinus’ words about his prisoner Egeon, “Why, here begins his morning story right” starts the play’s last phase, tying its elements together, the forerunner to Shakespeare’s great reconciliations. It’s the opposite of the opening’s threatened backyard execution. And it takes Cooke’s production to a level few have, for all their busy-ness, reached.
Solinus: Ian Burfield.
Egeon: Joseph Mydell.
Gaoler: Tom Anderson.
1st Merchant: Jude Owusu.
Antipholus of Syracuse: Lenny Henry.
Dromio of Syracuse: Lucian Msamati.
Dromio of Ephesus: Daniel Poyser.
Adriana: Claudie Blakley.
Luciana: Michelle Terry.
Antipholus of Ephesus: Chris Jarman.
Balthasar: Silas Carson.
Angelo: Amit Shah.
2nd Merchant: Rene Zagger.
Officer: Adrian Hood.
Courtesan: Grace Thurgood.
Pinch: Paul Bentall.
Abbess: Pamela Nomvete.
Luce: Clare Cathcart.
Ensemble: Marcus Adolphy, Yvonne Newman, Rhiannon Oliver, Simon Parrish, Everal A Walsh.
Director: Dominic Cooke.
Designer: Bunny Christie.
Lighting: Paule Constable.
Sound: Christopher Shutt.
Music: Gary Yershon.
Movement: Ann Yee.
Voice work: Jeannette Nelson.
Dialect coach: Kate Godfrey.
Fight director: Kate Waters.