The Comedy of Errors is one of Shakespeare’s much loved comedies.
This co-production between Bell Shakespeare and The State Theatre Company of South Australia brings Shakespeare’s classic comedy into contemporary times, setting it in Sydney’s Kings Cross, notorious for its sleazy nightlife, after hours violence, and as a crossroads for all walks of life. The non-Caucasian cast members are a welcome sight to the stage given current arguments about the need for a broader representation of our society on stage and screen. Unfortunately the two main sets of twins, on which this comedy of mistaken identity revolves, are still cast in a way that does little to disturb the status quo; that is in terms of casting it was still a case of wealthy twins played by Caucasian actors, servant twins played by non-Caucasian actors. Consequently the Anglo world view that dominates the Australian narrative regarding who is served and who does the serving remained unchallenged.
As a whole I found this production, directed by Imara Savage, hard to connect with. I really wanted to be drawn in, especially given the excellent sound design by David Heinrich, which was appropriately loud and electronic, and the set design by Pip Runciman, which was simple and clever, providing a series of doors for the slap stick comedy to work a treat. There were moments where I was suitably amused, but as a classic comedy it didn’t work all that well. It felt as if the ideas about the play were being thrust at the audience; there was no sense of ease or subtlety in what the actors were doing, no pathos or connection developed for the characters, and as a result the characterisations came across as forced and two dimensional in spite the obvious talent and skill of the cast.
A highlight of the show was a wonderfully realized and executed ‘night out on the town’ sequence. But here lies the problem: it was the show’s greatest moment and it wasn’t penned by Shakespeare.
I enjoyed the re-interpretations of the characters, their accents and cultural affectations, but they often obscured the text. Isn’t Shakespeare’s sense of the poetic, his turn of phrase, witty repartee, and his recognition and compassion for human failure part of what makes his work still relevant and interesting to modern theatre audiences?
The bold resetting, talented cast and designers and an honouring of the text together would have made a really great show; but this production just missed the mark.
Sydney Season: 12 November to 7 December Sydney Opera House Bell Shakespeare