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Theatre review: The Comedy of Errors (National Theatre) 
11th-Dec-2011 06:55 pm
The Comedy of Errors features much confusion over two pairs of twins. Among those confused are the show's programmes, which contain an erratum note to point out that they've married Adriana off to the wrong Antipholus in the cast list.

Dominic Cooke's first production at the National is a multicultural take on The Comedy of Errors, where Syracusians with Nigerian accents arrive in a modern London of Polish cleaners, Essex girls and a band of buskers singing pop songs in Romanian. Bunny Christie's impressive set starts off looking as if it thinks it'll be hosting West Side Story, all smoke and fire escapes, but it spins and twists itself inside out to reveal seedy back alleys, trendy apartment blocks and Georgian terraces - all of them with pigeons perched on the roof tiles. This isn't the quickest of Shakespeare plays to get into gear and suffers, like The Tempest, from an opening Basil Exposition speech. Cooke gives Egeon's (Joseph Mydell) setup speech an elaborate flashback sequence which at least makes it visually more interesting even if, judging by Vanessa's questions about the backstory later, it doesn't entirely help clarify what's going on.

Lenny Henry is Antipholus of Syracuse, paired with Lucian Msamati as his Dromio. Henry is confident enough in only his second stage role and both he and Chris Jarman¹ as his twin of Ephesus have some well worked-out slapstick in their scenes of beating the Dromios (Daniel Poyser is the Ephesus version) which is one of the highlights. Giving the visitors a different accent is an interesting idea, although it does make for a new plot hole as Adriana doesn't find it odd that her husband has spent the last few hours putting on a Nigerian accent. The female leads are another of the production's strengths, Claudie Blakley as Adriana and Michelle Terry as Luciana tottering in high heels and getting beauty treatments. Although, while Blakley gets several nice moments Terry feels underused - Propeller's production proved Luciana doesn't have to be sidelined, and it's a shame with an actress as good as Terry.

I didn't know if converting the Abbey where the story concludes into a rehab clinic (playing off Abbey/Priory) would work but actually having the Abbess (Pamela Nomvete) as a psychiatrist fits in very nicely with her dialogue. Sometimes Cooke's production protests too much as it tries to edgily play up to its multi-ethnic cast² cute Amit Shah's nervy jeweller Angelo is great and Vanessa pointed him out as one of her favourite performances, but I have no idea why he twice put on a "comedy" Indian accent to do particular lines. Overall though, the production may not quite match Propeller's as best Errors of the year but it's brisk and satisfying with a lot of good laughs, if no massive belly-laughs.

The Comedy of Errors by William Shakespeare is in repertory until the 1st of April at the National Theatre's Olivier.

¹who I met on the train back from Stratford UA after Marat/Sade; nice man. And I'm not just saying that 'cause he knows where this blog is. OR AM I etc etc.

²I don't know if I've been that clear with what I mean by that. I think what I mean is that with black leads and a multicultural setting, I felt as if the production was going "yeah but look, we're not politically correct box-ticking, we can be a bit un-PC and cheeky as well," which I don't think is a justification it needs to make.
(Deleted comment)
17th-Dec-2011 11:38 am (UTC)
He was good, but I have a feeling it's Claudie Blakley I'll remember most from it long-term. Her and the set.
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