Review: The Comedy of Errors, National Theatre, Olivier

Lenny Henry (Antipholus of Syracuse) and Lucian Msamati (Dromio of Syracuse). Photo by Johan Persson.


We went to a matinee performance and I was rather surprised to see many children in the audience. The Comedy of Errors is not the most well known of Shakespeare plays and the plot, judging by the synopsis in the programme, sounded so complex (what with characters sharing names) that I had to read it three times to try and understand it. It also didn’t help that the programme notes had made a mistake with the name of one of the characters.

We were sitting behind a family of four and while we were waiting for the play to begin, we were subjected to a fraught discussion between one of the children and his parents. Fearing that their son might be confused by the play, his parents wanted to explain the plot to him and he retorted that he wanted to be left alone to understand the plot from the play. In the end, the young boy was right. You don’t have to know the play nor read the synopsis to enjoy this entertaining production. You can come in cold to this production and you will leave being enthralled by Shakespeare.

I particularly liked the mime action in the beginning of the play which sets out how a family, including twin brothers and their twin servants, got separated. Narrating the context in words – as Shakespeare would have intended – will lose some in the audience but relaying it in a neat set of actions, including a fantastic helicopter rescue effort – makes this story much more accessible.

The farcical comedy as a result of mistaken identity comes to life when all of the characters congregrate in a port city characterised by its sleaziness. The Duke (Ian Burfield) is the city’s gangster leader; the somewhat dubious businessman, Antipholus of Ephesus (Chris Jarman), is married to a WAG-like Adriana (Claudie Blakley); and the newly arrived Antipholus of Syracuse (Lenny Henry) is the country bumpkin who is easily taken in by the city’s wily ways. This production brilliantly uses a four man band whose international music underlies the global fusion of ideas in this city as well as to enable scene changes to take place seamlessly behind them. Bunny Christie’s set design is also effective in bringing out the hard urbanite qualities of this city.

Delivery by one or two characters on stage doesn’t help the audience to understand every word being uttered but, on the whole, the large cast do a terrific job to keep us engaged with this play. Both Chris Jarman and Lenny Henry are splendidly cast but it is the two servant Dromios (Lucian Msamati and Daniel Poyser) who stand out for me. As an Arsenal fan, I was delighted to see both Dromios decked out in Arsenal shirts but wondered if Arsenal was paying anything in return for this brand placement on stage. Blakley gives us a WAG down to a tee and she deserves a special mention for her agility in vertiginous heels. Jumping onto a pool table in a pair of platform heels is no mean feat!

I went to see this play, not expecting anything other than to be entertained and, on this score, this fast paced production didn’t let me down. If anything, this revival reminds us that however implausible Shakespeare’s comedies can be, they need to be seen on stage to be truly appreciated.

★★★★☆
Until 1 April 2012.
Performance time: approximately 2 hours 20 mins with an interval.
Written by William Shakespeare.
Directed by Dominic Cooke.

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About manipillai

Oh, just a few of my thoughts on theatre.
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