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RSC Garden Theatre review: The Comedy of Errors

The Comedy of Errors, Lydia & Manfred Gorvey Garden Theatre, Stratford, to Sept 26.

By Charles Barker

What great fun!

On a chilly but mercifully dry evening, this version of “Comedy” had a virtually full house at the RSC’s open-air theatre thoroughly warmed with terrific entertainment.

The play has all the elements of farce – mistaken identities, confusion, and unlikely coincidences. The cast wring out the laughs of the improbable plot and clearly have a ball doing so.

The story revolves around two sets of twins - two boys and their two servants - separated in childhood. One twin and his servant, both now fully grown, set out from their home in Syracuse to find the lost brother, and land in Ephesus.

Unknown to them, the lost brother just happens to be in Ephesus, with his matching servant, and is a prominent merchant.

Naturally, everyone in town mistakes the newcomer for his merchant brother, and one servant for the other. Much confusion ensues, all four get into terrible trouble without knowing why, until at the end everything is happily resolved, both sets of twins are reunited, and (ahem) all’s well that ends well.

Directed by Phillip Brean, the play is set on an almost bare stage, the cast are in modern(ish) clothes and the scene changes are signalled by scat singing, sometimes with the full cast joining it. It’s discordant, but it works, somehow reflecting the distorted realities the characters are experiencing.

Guy Lewis and Rowan Polonski are both excellent as the main twins; Polonski does a brilliant Basil Fawlty-type turn, leaping frantically about the stage in rage and frustration at the increasingly bizarre events knocking his life off course.

Jonathan Broadbent and Greg Haiste come close to stealing the show as the twin servants, but all the performances are excellent.

It’s hilarious, laugh-out-loud funny, but there is also an underlying sadness - people struggling with forces beyond their understanding or control, fractured identities, and family separation. This is Shakespeare after all, not Brian Rix.

It’s a wonderful evening, not to be missed, enhanced greatly by the setting. The open-air theatre is an inspired idea. The seating is comfortable enough with plenty of legroom, the sound and lighting are perfect, and the interval stroll along the banks of the Avon as twilight falls caps it all. Remember to wrap up warm though, and take raincoat just in case.

And please, please, RSC, make the garden theatre a regular feature of future summers.

Picture: Why me! Rowan Polonski protesting his innocence. Photo by Pete Le May © RSC.


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