The RSC opened a new season after you-know-what with The Comedy of Errors. Fortunately on what was probably the warmest evening of the year so far it was performed in their RSC’s newest venue, the outdoor Lydia and Manfred Gorvy Garden Theatre.
Many readers will have been separated from close family for over a year – imagine being separated for 23 years. Egeon of Syracuse lost his wife and one twin son Antipholus and a servant boy Dromio, who also happened to be a twin, at sea, ironically in a shipwreck following a storm that never happened – the crew abandoned ship in anticipation of the tempest and the family, thinking they had survived the storm that never materialised, where then shipwrecked when the crewless boat hit a rock. How a simple twist of fate alters lives.
Both twins had the same name, which showed a curious lack of imagination on the part of the parents but allowed for the mayhem that followed when Antipholus of Ephesus went searching for his brother with Dromio in tow.
The spartan stage and excellent acapella sound effects and singing allowed tension and atmosphere to build purely by virtue of the excellent performances and word-perfect dialogue. Cleverly both sets of twins were identically dressed and similar in build and each had opportunities to shine. Initially Guy Lewis was the slightly befuddled Antipholus who had arrived from Syracuse, knowing that he was not ‘complete’ – something was missing until he found his twin. He was confused in a slightly Hugh Grant-esque way as to why he was suddenly everyone’s best friend. His twin, Rowan Polonski, as Antipholus of Ephesus, became increasingly frustrated at his inability to convince people he was an upstanding citizen of Ephesus, having lived there for more than two decades. His final scene with a hyperactive and energetic monologue as to why he was not mad, whilst seemingly demonstrating to disbelieving onlookers the exact opposite, was one of the highlights of the production.
Hedydd Dylan was wonderful as the (truly) pregnant wife of Antipholus. This added to the humour of the confusion and mistaken identities as the confused wife who could not understand her apparent husband’s indifference. This alternated with her rage at his denial of even being married to her and preference for her sister and was a tribute to her dedication to her art. That’s what happens when you pick the wrong twin. Her performance in the yoga class in a leotard while heavily pregnant warranted the applause.
The two Dromios were of course the fall guys for their respective masters’ anger at not obeying instructions with Jonathan Broadbent and Greg Haiste mirroring each other’s mannerisms. The diverse cast was excellent and is now a standard feature of many productions but the generic northern accent of the Abbess who gives sanctuary to Antipholus of Ephesus was unnecessary and a rather trite stereotype. The inclusion of a deaf actor with signing and a sidekick who spoke his words was a source of much comedy.
At the title says, it is a comedy and Phillip Breen's production had laugh-out-loud-moments. But it was more than that. It had moments of poignancy as families had been and were in danger of being split asunder again – Antipholus of Ephesus and his wife. And accusations of madness, a word that occurs more often than in King Lear or Hamlet or any other Shakespeare play – how thin is the veneer of respectability and loyalty when threatened? Fortunately all’s well that ends well.
* The Comedy of Errors runs until September 26 before going on tour. Visit www.rsc.org.uk/the-comedy-of-errors to book.