Friday, 7 January 2011

Comedy of Errors By William Shakespeare ***1/2

Comedy of Errors 
By William Shakespeare
Adapted by Robert Benedetti, by Australian Shakespeare Company
Botanical Gardens, until March 12, 2011
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: ***1/2

Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors is a totally bonkers farce involving two sets of twins, mistaken identities, eccentric characters, absurd puns, bawdiness and endless entrances and exits. It is a smorgasbord of tasty comic opportunities for an actor.

Glenn Elston’s production capitalises on the comedy by dressing characters in half-masks in the style of the Commedia Dell’Arte (think Harlequin) and peppering scenes with physical gags, slapstick routines and silly walks to make John Cleese envious.

Although this production began life indoors at the Athenaeum Theatre, it is better suited to its outdoor venue in the Botanical Gardens. Its kooky comedy and looseness looked a little uncontrolled on a formal stage but have an engaging playfulness in the informal outdoors.

Egeon of Syracuse (Ross Williams) has twin sons both – just to complicate matters –called Antipholus. He lost his wife and one twin, now known as Antipholus of Ephesus (Hugh Sexton), in a shipwreck 25 years earlier. Egeon arrives in Ephesus in search of them with the remaining twin, Antipholus of Syracuse (Simon Mallory). Both Antipholuses have twin servants called Dromio (Syd Brisbane, Brendan O’Connor), also separated in the shipwreck. Confused yet?

The identically costumed and masked twins are indistinguishable from each other and the audience must cheerfully abandon itself to the inevitable confusions. Mallory and Sexton have fun as the pompous, pointy-nosed, young Antipholuses. As their Harlequin-like servants, Brisbane and O’Connor are cheeky, big-eared and bawdy Dromios, capering and tumbling to avoid unwarranted beatings.

Terri Brabon, on roller-skates, plays Adriana (wife of Antipholus of Syracuse) as a demanding, spoilt harridan. Josephine Bloom plays her sister, Luciana, as a prim, ballet-dancing maiden wearing an enormous chastity belt. There is some funny physical business between Tony Rive as Angelo, the foppish, horsey jeweller, and Andrew Bongiorno, the peg-leg pirate-like moneylender, Balthazar. Williams, as the droning old Egeon, and Kevin Hopkins on stilts as the beleaguered Duke, get plenty of laughs.

It could enhance this outdoor production to open up the performance space and take advantage of the myriad, off-stage entrances and exits. It feels a little constrained on the stage, although the cartoon-like set design (Greg Carroll) is effective.

Summer nights in the Gardens are too luscious to miss so take a blanket and wine and have a giggle.
By Kate Herbert

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