A Shakespearean pantomime? There are definite panto elements in this Comedy of Errors by all-male company Propeller, not only because the ladies are played by men but also because of a joyful spirit of audience inclusion, adlibbing, popular songs and great physical punctuation of the text. The text is well-illustrated and supported by these elements, with only the occasional ‘low humour’ seeming strained, not because of its childish crudity – which was really very entertaining – but rather by being slightly over-used. This criticism, however, is very much tied into matters of taste and there is absolutely something for everyone here – many things, in fact.
Propeller have produced a highly entertaining and clear story-telling extravaganza in this tale of separated twins, difficult relationships and hilarious mistaken identity. Edward Hall‘s inventive direction includes the inspired use of song to introduce characters and well-layered patterns which build in physicality, characterisation and sound to reach a brilliant crescendo, particularly in Sam Swainsbury’s late ‘I am not mad’ speech. The energy was extremely impressive, though more so in the second half as it did not quite seem to click into place early on at this particular performance. The sombre atmosphere created in the first scene worked very well as a contrast to the rest of the festive Latin feel, where anything goes, but it could have benefited from more of the drive that made later scenes flow brilliantly.
The design (Michael Pavelka; Ben Ormerod – Lighting) makes strong use of colours in a cheesily satisfying resort setting, full of life, though there is minor restriction to the view of exits if seated far to the side, particularly on the left – hazards of a touring production. There also appeared to be some strain in a couple of actors’ voices and it is interesting to note that it was the female characters who mostly showed stronger vocal resonance. These ladies were amusing and provoking, somewhat pushing the bounds of ‘good taste’, but – while stylised – still grounded. David Newman as Luciana was particularly believable, with wonderful characteristics that include humorous martial art skills. Robert Hands’ Adriana came into her own in later scenes when connection was strong and he was able to make rantings poignantly funny.
The two sets of twins were played with gusto and the relationships between master and servant had their own characteristics, part of the impressive patterns layered through the piece. Dugald Bruce-Lockhart and Sam Swainsbury were suitably roguish, with servants Richard Frame and Jon Trenchard entertainingly set-upon. Highlights include Frame’s description of the kitchen wench ‘Nell’ as well as wonderfully observed and delivered character pieces from supporting actors: Tony Bell as an evangelist Dr Pinch, Wayne Cater as Welsh businessman Balthazar, often appearing with the very believable Thomas Padden, Chris Myles as Aemilia and Dominic Tighe as the arresting Officer. The overall quality of the actors show how strong this ensemble is and bode well for their Richard III, playing on alternate days.
Propeller’s production is a wonderfully entertaining version of The Comedy of Errors that is highly accessible and elicited appreciative responses and applause during the actual performance. Whatever your relationship with Shakespeare’s works, this is definitely a great way to enjoy the English Bard.
Review by Danielle Farrow.
A Comedy Of Errors plays on 24th & 26th February at 7.30pm – ticket information is available on the King’s Theatre website