Comedy hits right note

The Comedy of Errors: Theatre Royal, NorwichIf there was ever a funnier performance of Shakespeare on stage, I'm sure I don't know of it. There are show-stopping moments in this super Royal Shakespeare Company touring production of The Comedy of Errors when audience laughter and applause takes over.

Ivan Howlett

The Comedy of Errors: Theatre Royal, Norwich

If there were ever a funnier performance of Shakespeare on stage, I'm sure I don't know of it. There are show-stopping moments in this super Royal Shakespeare Company touring production of The Comedy of Errors when audience laughter and applause takes over. Even more remarkable for a play which - at first glance - looks distinctly underwhelming fare.

A Syracusian merchant Christens his twin sons the same name and buys another pair of twins, both named Dromio, to be their servants. He then loses one of each twin, and his wife, in a storm before spending a lifetime looking for them. Then all four end up in an apparently crazy city. Come on, that really is stretching reality a bit, even for comedy.


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But director Nancy Meckler masterfully takes on both, very different, elements of the play. The comedy moments match the brilliantly-done farcical elements, incorporating clever audience interplay.

In contrast, however, there's the serious side - people searching desperately for their roots to establish who they are. Darker than that, there are echoes of immigration issues and even the difficulties that faced the British teacher Gillian Gibbons. Ephesus, the city where the merchant (Ciaran McIntyre) lands, is hostile to Syracusians threatening him with reprisals, or even beheading.

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Nancy Meckler's masterstroke is her creation of the rowdy Ephesus, a city of cheats, quacks, and gamblers. A crowd of characters including, rogues, vagabonds and 'vile renegades', swirl around a Mafia-style Duke (Tim Chipping) as he holds court in barbershop. It's an odd ensemble of stage folk - hair-on-end, Dickensian, loudly windy, even freakish - but brilliantly choreographed and with a band of street musicians ever present on stage.

As for the two sets of twins, the merchant's sons are wittily and sometimes passionately played by real-life brothers Simon and Jason Merrells and the red-wigged Dromio servants (Ian McKee and Chris New) are nicely over the top.

Siobhan Redmond gives a full-blooded, hot-tempered performance as Adriana, while every slapstick, double take, and stage comedy trick and device seems to be going on around her. I mention just one brilliant set-piece moment - when one of the Dromio twins is picked up and used as a headfirst battering ram to knock down a door.

A smashing show. It would be good to see the play done more often.

Ivan Howlett

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