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The Comedy of Errors
Barbican Theatre, London
WITH a vaguely Middle Eastern setting in the 1980s that places the action in the milieu of shallow international tourism — all branded shopping bags, soulless hotel decor and high-end tourist tack — this zany interpretation of Shakespeare’s knockabout comedy draws as much humour from its peripheral cast members as from its main actors.
One of its finest touches is to employ the ensemble as an omnipresent onstage retinue of puzzled onlookers — passing tourists, hotel guests, minor officialdom and restaurant-goers — who somehow find themselves drawn into the tangled web of mistaken identity that entraps the Antipholus and Dromio twins.
Mainly they stay silent as they watch from the street or peer over from an adjoining dinner table, but their gasps and interjections, allied to a selection of their own small pratfalls, add punctuation to some of the funniest moments.
The two Dromios (Jonathan Broadbent and Greg Haiste) and the two Antipholus (Guy Lewis and Rowan Polonski) contribute magnificently to the slapstick absurdity — Polonski showing special athletic prowess in pulling off a hilariously chaotic fight scene with his arresting police officer — while Naomi Sheldon as Adrianna and Avita Jay as Luciana give physicality to their roles, too, most notably during an amusing hotel yoga session in which Luciana, both legs stretched ungallantly behind her ears, reveals that Antipholus of Syracuse “did praise my beauty.”
Excellent as those six are, however, it’s often the touches on the edges that make this RSC production such a consistently funny offering. It’s great physical theatre, and movement director Charlotte Brook must take much of the credit for that.
Praise, too, for the glorious creativity of director Phillip Breen, who has inserted so many imaginative touches into a coherently chaotic presentation. It lasts almost three hours but flashes by.
Runs until December 31: barbican.org.uk/whats-on/2021.
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