“For they say every why hath a wherefore”
The second play in this year’s season at the Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park is Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors. An early farce featuring two sets of identical twins separated at birth, they end up in the same town and several cases of mistaken identity then lead to a series of madcap capers and general confusion as everyone begins to question their relationships with others. This production is set in 1940s Casablanca and features amongst many, many other things, live swing music.
There’s so much going on and so many different tricks and whistles that it ultimately feels quite schizophrenic as a production. There are elements of ‘40s screwball comedy, jazz musicals and Carry On films amongst others, but they just didn’t feel well integrated. This was particularly obvious in Egeon’s scenes which were played straight and without fanfare and so felt tonally as if they were from a whole different play: scenes tend to stop and start as whatever new device is employed rather than flow from one to the other.
Things like the quirky scene changes in the first act were superficially nice but added unnecessary length to the running time and crucially added nothing to the production. Having a stalwart of musical theatre like enemy-of-the-deaf Anna-Jane Casey as the Courtesan or nightclub hostess as she is here is a nice touch, but having established who and what she is, she’s then given a second song five minutes later which just arrests the action and the less said about her costume for that number the better… The use of a swing band to provide the musical accompaniment throughout lends some coherence, snatches of West Side Story and La Marseillaise livening things up from time to time.
Joseph Kloska and Josh Cohen were both extremely good as the Dromios, devoted servants and full of boundless enthusiasm and I was a fan of Daniel Weyman’s Antipholus of Syracuse with a nicely warm stage presence. Jo Herbert’s Adriana and Daniel Llewelyn-Williams’ Antipholus of Ephesus played the harsher sides of their characters well but the resultant haughtiness meant it was difficult to buy their participation in the screwball element that came later. Sophie Roberts as Luciana and Christopher Logan’s officer seemed the most comfortable here, both effortlessly going for the laughs with broadly comic turns.
The set looks impressive, dominated as it is by a huge billboard stating ‘Ephesus welcomes you’ with an anti-Syracusan caveat in small print at the bottom and a steel walkway provides an extra level to the stage, but it is rather inflexible as a staging choice. Furniture upstage is used to create the different locations, but the use of a small canopy to separate the protagonists during the scene at Adriana’s door was not effective and too subtle a choice and there was little to suggest the abbey of the final scene.
This Comedy of Errors was a little bit too much style over substance for me: too many additions and frivolities and not enough attention to creating a cohesive production which can deal as well with the darker side of this story as well it does the comedic aspects. It is still fairly good fun to watch though and the Open Air Theatre is a delightful venue (when the weather is behaving!).