Thursday, February 29

The Comedy of Errors (more or less) – Shakespeare North Playhouse

A Shakespearean comedy set around two rival states and two sets of mismatched twins is brought back to life with its central theme of mistaken identity compounded by deliberate theatrical chaos and a cacophony of musical numbers from the 1980’s in this co-production from Shakespeare North and Stephen Joseph Theatre.

An actor, Antipholus (David Kirkbride) arrives in a Yorkshire coastal town with his sidekick Dromio (Oliver Mawdsley) to perform his one man show, but there’s no audience as everyone has booked for a talent show across town starring the twin brother he’s never met, and whose sidekick is also named Dromio.

The twin brother owes money but has promised his wife, Adriana (Alyce Liburd) a gold chain. With the Prescot brother falling for Adriana’s unmarried sister, Luciana (Ida Regan) and with a Courtesan (Valerie Antwi) in the wings, it’s going to take their mother (Claire Eden) to separate them from the ensuing confusion, but she’s been locked up by the Duke (Andy Cryer).

This is one of the trickiest reviews I’ve had to undertake.

We’re presented with a play written by Shakespeare but ‘messed around with by’ Elizabeth Godber and Nick Lane, resulting in something quite different. By their own admission, they have edited out everything that conflict with their view of life, effectively losing much of the subtlety of the original to leave us with what I can best describe as a sledgehammer: even though they ‘cancelled’ the inherent violence of the original, there were still plenty of slaps and more on show tonight.

There is a lot of debate about interpretation and/or adaptation of Shakespeare for the modern audience but that is not what we have here, which is a played for laughs, 1980’s working class War of the Roses, and one which was well received by tonight’s audience, although it was long at three hours, including an interval, and stretched some of the jokes just that little bit too far along with repetition.

Spinning off from one of Shakespeare’s most brilliant farces, it’s not unrealistic to expect quick wit and humour. To an extent there is – they haven’t avoided the original plot completely – but this is a product rather than a piece of theatre that plays to its lowest common denominator, so we get lots of loud, in your face treatments with regular swearing thrown in as a guarantee to get laughs, because that’s what the working class do, isn’t it? Whilst I accept theatre must reach out and engage with a wider audience, this felt more like dumbing down suited to Saturday night television viewing armed with a takeaway. Fish and chips anyone?

Equally we had a lot of songs since director Paul Robinson had made some great deal with PRS, and whilst these were interwoven into the play, it wasn’t a musical and it felt more like a lazy way to secure audience engagement and make them feel entertained.

Harsh? Maybe, but what I did see tonight was a talented cast who rolled superbly with the challenges of the intended duplicitous theme, whilst delivering some intricate choreography. I’d love to see what they’d do with the original. I’m not entirely sure why they, as others here before, were miked up: I hope it is nothing more than the acoustics of a new building still bedding in.

Gabriel Byrne once said that he approached his work on the assumption his audience was intelligent. I don’t think we saw much evidence of that approach tonight: it was less not more.

The Comedy of Errors (more or less) plays through to 25th March at Shakespeare North Playhouse. Further details

Reviewer: Mark Davoren

Reviewed: 7th March 2023

North West End UK Rating: ★★★