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THEATRE Triumphantly chaotic

GORDON PARSONS sees Shakespeare's frantic comedy of mistaken identity get a great production at the RSC

The Comedy of Errors
RSC Lydia and Manfred Gorvy Garden Theatre
Stratford-upon-Avon

THE RSC celebrates the reopening of live theatre at Stratford with a joyous romp in a temporary open-air theatre in the Swan Gardens next to the main house.

Sitting in this beautifully designed theatre space, watching a large, highly talented and young multicultural cast in Shakespeare’s frantic tangle of mistaken identity, what could be more of a two-fingered gesture to the last miserable 18 months society has endured?

With two pairs of identical twins chaos is inevitable but, even if pure farce, the bard’s first play asks an unsettling question. Is our identity a product of other people’s recognition rather than an essential part of our own consciousness?

A mounting whirlwind of chaos is sparked with the arrival in Ephesus of Guy Lewis’s vulnerably naive Antipholus from Syracuse. He is in search of his twin brother from whom he was parted virtually at birth and is mistaken by everybody for the town’s leading light, that very same brother with the same name.
 
When Rowan Polonski’s cockily assured Ephesian Antipholus finds even his wife, Hedydd Dylan’s fiery Adriana, has mistaken the bewildered visitor for her husband, both brothers begin to question their erstwhile “reality.”

Throw in their clownish twin servants, Jonathan Broadbent and Greg Haiste, both of course named Dromio, and a madhouse of mayhem ensues.

Accompanied by Paddy Cunneen’s choral scat soundscape, Phillip Breen’s production tightens the pace throughout to its hilarious climax, including a cameo performance by William Grint’s mute merchant, whose manic signing says more than any scripted words could convey.

The cast necessarily wear individual microphones in this open-air production but on-set studio mics also play a central part in underlining how identity today has so often become artificially mediated through public perceptions.

Only one cavil, and that is not related to an all-round splendid production. Shakespeare will indulge a passion for punning word play which must have gone down well with Elizabethan audiences but today is largely lost on all but linguistic specialists.

Runs at Stratford until September 26, then tours: rsc.org.uk

 

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