“Is this a twin one? Is it the double twin one? Is it one with a shipwreck?”
There’s not a lot to the story of The Comedy of Errors. As we munch through our picnic on a chilly Saturday evening in Exeter’s Rougemont Gardens, one of my friends describes it as a ‘two line plot’. Two sets of twins – the brothers Antipholus and their servants, the brothers Dromio – get mistaken for each other, as can often happen when you give both of your twin sons the same name. Comedy and mayhem ensue, reunion scene at the end. A standard but smart choice for an open-air show, since there’s very little fear that the audience won’t be able to keep up if they’re distracted by rain/other members of the public/aforementioned picnics. You can throw literally anything at The Comedy of Errors – fire spinning, beam walking, knife throwing – the whole circus.
Which is, obviously, what director Poppy Burton Morgan does, setting the action in the Circus of Ephesus, and cramming it with colour, music, and a bit of light tumbling. The circus skills on show aren’t incredible feats of acrobatics, but the fooling is fantastic. The pace rockets along throughout, the energy rarely drops, and the cast strike the right balance of both embracing and lampshading the increasingly absurd set-up. This is a slick, supportive ensemble piece with no weak links, although the rapport that Martin Bassindale’s Antipholus strikes up with the audience and the sheer stage presence of Katriona Brown’s Ring Mistress stand out as highlights.
Jean Chan’s set design is spot on – the brightly painted caravan, rope and sawdust ring, and large centre podium hide a handful of tricks and surprises (including an ingeniously disguised trampoline). Lydia Hardiman’s costumes are stunning despite getting muddier as the night goes on. Whilst the Antipholuses and Dromios obviously have to match (blue for one pair, yellow for the other), the strikingly different costumes for Adriana and Luciana do a lot to help carve out the differences between the two women. Although playing the feathered Luciana with bird-like physicality was slightly over-egging it (sorry-not-sorry).
Burton Morgan knows exactly how to use the space to keep each scene feeling fresh and different even when Shakespeare starts to repeat himself. Watching Grace Hussey-Burd’s Dromio popping up from the caravan’s roof hatch never gets old, and who doesn’t love a tricycle chase? I’m less keen on Adriana joining in the chase whilst holding knives in both hands (I’m sure it was fine, but the ground was really slippery after a weekend of rain), and watching her randomly throw a knife ‘at’ a (terrified-looking) woman in the audience was unnecessarily nail-biting.
Matt Devereaux’s score leaves a lasting impression – a mish-mash of accordions, flutes, bells, drums, and kazoos that jams ‘run away with the circus’ into your head for hours afterwards. The Comedy of Errors is a bold, bright, and boisterous show that goes above and beyond the demands of the script.This is a fast, physical, and very funny first outing for the Exeter Northcott Theatre’s graduate company.
The Comedy of Errors is on in Exeter until 30 July 2017. Click here for more details.