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  • Flora Gosling

Review: The Comedy of Errors (The Lydia and Manfred Gorvy Garden Theatre)

Updated: Jun 2, 2022

The new, temporary Lydia and Manfred Gorvy Garden Theatre is reminiscent of a water park. It feels as though we are about to witness some ill-treated dolphins perform tricks, with its very own “splash zone” as staff sweep rainwater off the stage. Strange though it is to be in this new environment, it allows audiences to return to something far more familiar; the Royal Shakespeare Company. In the year and a quarter it has been since theatres have put on in-person performances, it is easy to forget how the final bow is a set piece in itself when you watch a comedy by the RSC. The dance sequence warms your heart even as your hands ache from clapping along. Despite everything, they still conjure their signature warmth with The Comedy of Errors, directed by Philip Breen.

In a story of mistaken identity, Antipholus of Syracuse (Guy Lewis) and his servant Dromio (Jonathan Broadbent) arrive in the city of Ephesus, not knowing that each has an identical twin, also called Antipholus (Rowan Polonski) and Dromio (Greg Haiste), who are prominent figures in the city. As one can expect, chaos and confusion ensue.

(Photo Credit: Pete Le May (c) RSC)

When we meet Lewis’ Antipholus, his announcement that he would like to take time to explore the city is a little unconvincing. He stands as though he was plonked onto the earth moments ago, and is not driven to explore the city out of curiosity, but rather a lack of anything better to do. As the play goes on, however, this Mr Bean-like aimlessness lends itself well to his character and the bizarre situations in which he finds himself. Presented with a magnificent golden chain? May as well take it. Offered the chance to spend an evening with a formidable but seductive woman who claims to be his wife? Why not. He plays a rag doll prepared to be pulled hither and thither as the plot demands.

By contrast, Polonski’s Antipholus begins his performance with a very composed, almost cocky assurance in his own ability, and gets unstuck at the very first obstacle he encounters. Watching a character so high-strung getting gradually unpicked is cathartic, as are the endlessly inventive scenarios that torment and baffle him. Polonski pitches his performance so that we can enjoy his misfortunes, believe in them, but not get bogged down in pity.

(Photo Credit: Pete Le May (c) RSC)

Haiste performs Dromio with the second-hand tension you would expect for a man who has to serve a master like that. He nags like a dorky side-kick, whilst trying to avoid reprimands and beatings. It says something about Haiste’s performance that this never grows tiresome – every time he appears on stage the audience giggle, eager to see what he shall endure next.

Broadbent’s Dromio is similarly put-upon, but suitable looser. He snaps his sunglasses sassily, cracks jokes at his own misfortune (albeit ones that have aged rather poorly), and frequently steals scenes from his co-stars. One of the highlights is his interaction with a young member of the audience, making the most of the outdoor performance space and bringing the audience together.

Between the four of them, the audience can rely on the production to entertain them; what happens around them is slightly less reliable. Breen’s overall vision is difficult to pin down. Some parts are genius; the subplot of a housemaid who gets revenge on Antipholus for ruining her work is priceless. Others are less successful, namely the direction of Luciana (Avita Jay); her gaudy and mismatched 80s-inspired attire makes a much bigger impression than her character. Others still are so nonsensical that they are entertaining no matter how out of place they are – notably the Guru doing a pitch-perfect Russell Brand impersonation.

(Photo Credit: Pete Le May (c) RSC)

Disjointed though it may be, the performances at the heart of the show keep it steady, and there are quirks to the direction that keep it fresh. It is an ideal performance for someone who is not familiar with the play in advance, or even with Shakespeare in general. Watching an RSC performance outside may feel a little unusual, but for a well-rounded and rewarding production such as this, it is well worth the risk of a little rain. Four stars.

Whispers from the Crowd:

Loved it! It was lively, colourful, imaginative

I liked how it was more 80s, how they adapted it


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