The Comedy of Errors at the Barbican
Splashes of colour and farcical scenes conquer the Barbican Theatre’s stage in this production of The Comedy of Errors. The Royal Shakespeare Company revisit one of the early comedies of the Bard in a modern key, with a vibrant setting, ridiculously well-orchestrated physicality – and even an a cappella quartet.
Egeon (Antony Bunsee), a merchant of Syracuse, is arrested upon his arrival in Ephesus, where the entry of traders of his nationality is forbidden. With hours separating him from a death sentence, he tells his story to the Duke: he lost his son and so embarked on a journey to find him in Ephesus. As the monologue ends, we are transported to another part of the city, where Antipholus (Guy Lewis) and his servant Dromio (Jonathan Broadbent) experience strange misunderstandings with a woman called Adrianna (Naomi Sheldon) – who claims to be Antipholus’ wife – and her entourage. Simultaneously, though, another Antiphone (Rowan Polonski) and his servant, another Dromio (Greg Haiste), are locked out of their palace, charged with debt and accused of lying.
The comedy is centred on a favourite of Shakespeare’s tropes: the mistaken identity. It’s easily traceable in other comedies (and a few tragedies, too), together with the twin/exchanged characters motif, but here we also find extra slapstick and an overlapping composite of errors. This production capitalises on the intrinsic, powerful wit of the script to make a play that bursts with energy and extravagance.
Egeon’s speech opens the show rather slowly. As the other sequences introduce the different characters, joining the dots in terms of the relationships among them and weaving layers of confusion, the tone builds into a climax by the second act of physical and vocal farce. The threads unravelled with confidence so far get more entangled as the final revelation is delayed. The ending, like the beginning, could have been worked on further to avoid a sense of lumbering to the finish, but this can be forgiven in light of the humorous material provided in the lead-up.
Credit goes to director Phillip Breen for this bubbly take on the comedy, in collaboration with an effervescent cast that, although quite numerous, maintain unity and coordination throughout.
There are perhaps one or two recorded sounds that are played behind the scenes, but for the rest, melodic insertions surface thanks to the small choir omnipresent on stage. For some transitions, the four singers come to the front, whereas for the majority of the time, they are situated in the background, their voices always audible, blending into a subtle and short score; it’s a pleasing ploy.
Shakespeare’s comedies often lend themselves to hyperbolic productions; without overdoing it, this crackling version is bright, light and entertaining.
Photo: Pete Le May
The Comedy of Errors is at the Barbican from 16th November until 31st December 2021. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.
Watch the trailer for The Comedy of Errors here: