Last Updated on November 24, 2021
The RSC is back in town with its latest production of William Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors for a six-week run at the Barbican. It arrives fresh from tour after first being staged outdoors in Stratford-upon-Avon during the summer season.
I arrived at the Barbican harbouring a long-held soft spot for The Comedy of Errors. Trevor Nunn’s 197os musical version for the RSC – with a starry cast including a spot-on Judi Dench as Adrianna – was my first exposure to the play. Sitting in the back row of the gods at the Aldwych, I finally “got” Shakespeare in a way that years of turgid English Lit lessons had failed to achieve. In the intervening years, I’d seen just one other production, in the round at the Young Vic and not a patch on the 1970s version. And so we come to 2021 and director Phillip Breen’s (The Provoked Wife 2019, The Hypocrite 2017) lively, inventive take on the play.
The action begins with Egeon (Anthony Bunsee) condemned to death in Ephesus for daring to travel from rival city Syracuse. He appeals to the Duke for mercy and is granted a reprieve – but just for 24 hours. Egeon is searching for his long-lost wife and one of his twin sons, separated from him in a shipwreck many years ago. The other twin, who grew up with his father, is also hunting the world for his missing family. To add to the confusion, each identical twin – both named Antipholus – has an identical twin servant named Dromio. In the meantime, and unbeknown to Egeon, his son Antipholus of Syracuse (Guy Lewis) and his Dromio (Jonathan Broadbent) are also visiting Ephesus – where the other pair of twins, Antipholus of Ephesus (Rowan Polonski) and his Dromio (Greg Haiste), live. Antipholus of Ephesus’ wife, Adrianna (Naomi Sheldon) mistakes Antipholus of Syracuse for her husband. Two sets of twin brothers both with the same names all find themselves in the same town on the same day – a mix of farce, mistaken identities and chaos ensues.
A large ensemble cast of actors and musicians brings The Comedy of Errors to life but at the centre of things are the two sets of identical twins. Rowan Polonski as Antipholus of Ephesus has a dash of a sleazier version of Bertie Wooster (as played by Hugh Laurie) about him. Both he and Guy Lewis as his counterpart from Syracuse display a vital talent for comic timing. The Dromio actors are less alike physically. Jonathan Broadbent as Dromio of Syracuse has the showier more slapstick role, lurching gloriously from one pratfall to the next, while Greg Haiste impresses too as his long-lost brother. Also key to the action is Adrianna, Antipholous of Ephesus’s spite-filled wife. She is played here by Naomi Sheldon, styled part blousy Rovers barmaid/part Dynasty villainess. She is great fun to watch.
This Comedy of Errors is a visual pleasure in the hands of designer Max Jones. The costumes are amusing in themselves – mixing 1980s power dressing, big hair and bad perms on the one hand and the uniforms of a tinpot dictatorship on the other. The production is also tour de force of physical comedy choreographed by movement director Charlotte Broom and fight director Renny Krupinski. Standout set pieces include the yoga scene with Adrianna and her sister in Jane Fonda-esque leotards and a scene featuring a waiter with a dodgy toupee. Another vital element is the music – an inventive mix of ancient and modern by Paddy Cunneen. The strolling singers add much to proceedings, their beat-boxing and singing adding atmosphere and menace as well as pure entertainment during scene changes and even after the curtain call.
The Comedy of Errors is playing at the Barbican until Friday 31 December 2021
To find out more and book tickets : www.rsc.org.uk/the-comedy-of-errors
Looking for something different? We also recommend Get Up, Stand Up! the Bob Marley Musical or for something really Christmassy, how about The Nutcracker from The Royal Ballet at the Royal Opera House.