A Shakespearean comedy set around two rival states and two sets of mismatched twins is brought to life in this bright adaptation from Steve Purcell, who also directs, with its central theme of mistaken identity the perfect vehicle for Mark Hayward’s production to explore a number of popular theatre forms in this consistently funny farce that piles error upon error at an increasingly frantic pace.
If the challenge of the doubling up of not one but two sets of twins whilst keeping the audience on-board as the only ones who know what is happening on stage wasn’t enough, throw in an open-air venue, forecasted bad weather, and plane disruption from the adjacent airport, and I had everything crossed for the much-reduced cast of four playing all of the roles.
I needn’t have worried as with the simplest of staging, involving only a door, and the backdrop of Speke Hall, the opening musical numbers wittily introduced us to the challenges of Shakespeare as well as the essential back-story with some rather cleverly inspired props: fizz and pop will never mean the same thing again.
The use of colour was the ideal device to move between the red twins of Ephesus and the blue twins of Syracuse (with great comic performances from both Chris Coxon and Neil Jennings) through the merest change of a jacket, cap, and tinted glasses to move between character. Supporting roles were similarly portrayed with a corresponding colour, with the consummate Alex Rivers moving seamlessly between distraught wife Adriana to the more chavish goldsmith Angelo amongst others, whilst neutral characters typically adopted a yellow or brown, with Emily Beach delightfully portraying the morals of an upstanding duke, a prim and proper sister, and a saintly Abbess at one end of the scale before her curvaceous courtesan moved us very differently at the other.
There is a natural energy to the storytelling, but the pacing was rightfully controlled to keep the audience aligned with what was taking place, and complemented further by sympathetic and humorous interactions throughout that allowed the cast to demonstrate their prowess and wordplay as they ad-libbed to audience suggestions that do much to keep the piece alive to its location and current events.
The cast advised us not to look up and the forecasted rain dutifully held off from interrupting this hilarious and intricate classic with comedy at its best. Is it right to have a favourite Loon? Well, I had the pick of four and with each starring in their own right I can safely say it was a dead heat: I can’t wait to see them do it all again!
The Pantaloons are a vibrant and anarchic theatre company bringing a vital sense of ‘play’ back to classical performance. Further details of them and their current touring productions at https://thepantaloons.co.uk/
Speke Hall is one of the finest examples of a wood framed wattle-and-daub Tudor manor house and is open to the public. Amongst the many things to discover there are a thunderbox toilet, a priest hole and where the word ‘eavesdrop’ comes from, but not, as an American tourist once queried, why they built it so close to the airport! Further details available at https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/visit/liverpool-lancashire/speke-hall
Now if you want to combine a visit with more Pantaloons performances then you’re in luck as they return with not one final production this summer with Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland on Saturday 19th August at 7pm. All you need to do is turn up with a picnic and settle back for some great comic performances from a cast and company clearly revelling in entertaining you.
Reviewer: Mark Davoren
Reviewed: 5th August 2023
North West End UK Rating: