The border control comedy we didn’t know we all needed, The Comedy of Errors is Melbourne Shakespeare Company’s convivial contribution to the welcome wave of theatres reopening.
Cocooning the audience from early evening traffic, the blessed tranquility of St Kilda Botanical Gardens not only provides a colourful, fragrant backdrop of abundant roses in bloom but the outdoor setting also allows relaxed theatre enjoyment without the need to wear masks.
Shakespeare’s farcical comedy sees a great many errors ensue when Antipholus and Dromio of Syracuse arrive in Ephesus, where lives the twin sibling of each. The reaction of residents of Ephesus to the mere mention of Syracuse brings to mind the exacerbated feelings of Melburnians to Sydney this past year or so. Romantic, financial, legal and moral misunderstandings see the pairs of twins snared in ever escalating entanglements until the chaos is quelled in a rosy resolution.
Director Ben Adams succeeds on a number of levels, not least of which is the deft editing of the five act play to a breathlessly brisk 82-minute running time. Physical comedy is at a premium, paying dividends whenever characters have to reenact violent moments that have already transpired. Best of all, Adams has the talented troupe of 14 players working in a distinctively uniform style, allowing the comedy to flourish with nary a weak link.
Gender fluidity sees Egeon now the mother of the Antipholus twins and the Dromio pair now being twin sisters. Adams’ most interesting switch comes by having Luciana become Luciano, which sees Antipholus of Syracuse flirt headily with the brother of his sister-in-law Adriana; this perhaps explains why Antipholus of Syracuse has not a wife of his own.
Softening the scene transitions with the unique device of a brazen barbershop quartet of mechanicals, Adams does not waste a moment, also ensuring that the storytelling is a breeze to follow for first time viewers of the play.
Musical director Benjamin Colley has worked with Adams to provide musical choices that support the text with a knowing wink. Vocal harmonies are strong, especially given the absence of musical accompaniment. Choreographer John Reed matches Adams’ highly physicalised style, and adds to the energetic, improvised vibe with movement that appears just appears to be organically coming to life.
With the interpretation not set in any particular era or location, costume designer Aislinn Naughton outfits the cast for comfort and colour, achieving particular success with the perfectly matched sets of twins. While name plates sewn into costumes are an aid to the uninitiated, the device detracts slightly from the repeated feelings of surprise experienced by the boys from Syracuse when residents of Ephesus all recognise them by name.
With most of the setting simply provided by mother nature, set designer Hayley James makes the distinctive contribution of an ornate purple pair of doors, which serve to keep the Ephesus pair out when their counterparts are inside and also provide multiple portals through which the pair is beaten, buffeted and bruised.
Amidst the evenly matched ensemble cast, each of the performers playing twins shines in the spotlight. As Antipholus of Syracuse, Jonathan Peck vividly sets the early unbridled tone of daffy physicality, which is carried through effectively by Callum Mackay as Antipholus of Ephesus. Peck memorably steals the during the climactic kangaroo court trial scene with a ripping monologue that basically, and frenetically, recounts the entire plot.
Nicola Bowman delights as droll Dromio of Syracuse, bringing innate, multifaceted theatricality to their well-rounded performance. Joanna Halliday maintains a cheeky spark in her eye as she throws herself into nimbly executed antics as hapless Dromio of Ephesus.
Jacqueline Whiting brings the air of a 1980s soap super bitch to her electric characterisation of vainglorious Adriana. Augustin Tchantcho is luxury casting in the cameo role of Duke Solinus. Sebastian Li sparkles in the featured role of ostentatious goldsmith Angelo
With seating provided in the gardens by the company, simply bring along a cosy twilight blanket and a semi-picnic selection to enjoy The Comedy of Errors.
The Comedy of Errors plays at St Kilda Botanical Gardens, Melbourne until 19 December 2021.
For tickets, click here.
To read Melbourne Shakespeare Company’s COVID policy, click here.