The Comedy of Errors
RSC Lydia & Manfred Gorvy Garden Theatre
THEATRE is back. After a long enforced absence audiences finally have something to whoop at in the shape of an outdoor production of Shakespeare’s highly-updatable Comedy of Errors.
There is plenty to entertain in Phillip Breen’s bold and occasionally chaotic production but evidence too that there’s a fair bit of rustiness to overcome before it’s all running smoothly.
This temporary auditorium built behind the Swan Theatre is in itself a very decent venue. The stage has plenty of space and possibilities and the changing atmosphere as the sun goes down is quite charming. It’s not bad acoustically either – a fact lost of many of the cast who feel it necessary to yell their way through huge parts of the play. Coupled with a mistaken reliance on unchecked speed to try to inject energy the production often loses any kind of focus.
All the main characters are guilty of this at times. The problems of projection in an outdoor space are well known but sheer volume does not improve clarity or any sense of light and shade in characterisation. A mention though should go to Avita Jay who steps back from the noisefest to produce a vibrant but thankfully comprehensible Luciana.
Timing is sometimes ponderous, occasionally fabulous and things should improve over the run especially if some effort is made to tighten up some of the comedy.
Oddly enough for a play whose comedy rests so heavily on wordplay and misunderstanding, it was the silent characters who deserved and won the most laughs. A splendid toupee-wearing waiter, a long-suffering shopper weighed down by increasing numbers of RSC gift shop bags, a quack yoga guru rocking some splendid gold shorts – all these comic touches worked.
Lighting and design are all quite low key – a stack of wedding chairs, one sliding door and some visually unappealing microphone stands are as much as you get. Costume is very mix-and-match not really settling on place or time.
No production at the RSC seems to be complete these days without accompanying music. The action is linked by a soundtrack from a quartet of singers smiling and gyrating their way through perhaps the dullest, most irritating musical score ever heard at the theatre. It added nothing apart from a grating sense of repetition. The extended curtain call encore is more error than comedy.
There is a poignancy of course to the sight of families being united after fearing they may never see each other again, and in the promise that a new generation may give to those struggling to come to terms with the people we’ve lost. But this production doesn’t wear its serious side too heavily and – once a bit of focus has been established – it may wear its lighter side more effectively too.
Visit rsc.org.uk for tickets and further details.