After a triumphant Richard II, director Andrew Hilton has chosen one of Shakespeare’s gentlest comedies for his next production: there is no touch of melancholy, no edge here, as we are swept through a breathless couple of hours.
There is almost no let-up in Hilton’s rattling production, leaving the audience delighted and occasionally bamboozled as two sets of identical twins get mistaken for each other in every conceivable combination and permutation. This is light-hearted stuff (apart from the myriad beatings heaped on the shoulders of poor Dromio (Richard Neale and Gareth Kennerley)), and provides a cracking evening’s entertainment. Hilton has a gift for coaxing a freshness from his cast, making the language zip and sing – there are lines that sound as though they were written yesterday, and some thoroughly modern intonation. In the skillful hands of Hilton and his fantastic cast, this builds pace and humour without dumbing down or getting caught up in the intricacies of the language.
Neale and Kennerley are expressive and witty Dromios, who end the play on a beautiful moment when they meet, brother to brother, for the first time. Dan Winter and Matthew Thomas were strong as Antipholus of Syracuse and of Ephesus, doubly bearded and waist-coated, doubly cocky but likeable. Dorothea Myer-Bennett is a great Adrianna, playing Antipholus’s long-suffering but loving wife with verve, and treading a nice line between dignity and hysteria. Ffion Jolly as her patient, bookish sister does well with a slim part, and invests Luciana with a steely determination and fine comic timing.
The piece is played for laughs throughout, without much bother about depth of character or balance, which works with such a silly play. Even for Shakespeare, having two sets of identical twins is pushing it, and Hilton et al make the most out of every opportunity for silliness, physical comedy or an extra laugh. This is not a criticism – it is a pretty slightly plot – but merely than observation that, unlike many of the other comedies, this one does not have a dark heart – or at least Hilton has not gone looking for one. It works, because the cast have impeccable timing and the ability to be funny without speaking, but it does make for a fairly breathless production: with so much frenetic energy, there are very few calm or thoughtful moments, meaning that the audience leaves feeling a little steam-rollered by the play.
For such light entertainment, this production never lets up with the comedy and only just stays the right side of hysterical. The cast is good enough to avoid being hammy, but there are moments where the script invites it. Hilton picks his way through with aplomb, and keeps this production on the straight and narrow while maintaining the high-energy brand of humour, wit and verve that the Tobacco Factory is renowned for.
N.B. The morning of the show brought news that the Tobacco Factory was successful in its bid to become an Arts Council England National Portfolio Organisations, securing regular funding for the first time. In other good news, Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory, has announced a new partnership to tour productions to Exeter Northcott. Good news for one of my favourite theatre spaces.
The Comedy of Errors is playing at the Tobacco Factory until 30th April. For information and tickets see the website here.