The Comedy Of Errors Plays Out In York
Andrew Liddle, Features Writer
York was ablaze with Christmas lights and scores of excited young people were packed into the Theatre Royal to see a rollickingly intimate production, chock-full of brash humour, punning word play, audience participation, mistaken identity, singing, dancing, tumbling and all-round tom foolery. No, it was not Berwick Kaler’s eagerly anticipated panto slightly jumping the gun in the theatrical calendar. It was Shakespeare’s A Comedy Of Errors, brought by the RSC’s outreach.
For a decade or more, the RSC has been taking to schools and to regional theatres their proselytising First Encounters productions, edited versions of Shakespeare’s plays aimed at 7 to 13-year-olds but commendably using the original language – and incorporating local children into the performance.
On display tonight was not so much Shakespeare for the masses as for the classes, judging by the number of school parties in the house (accompanied by smilingly attentive carers clutching their ‘teachers’ packs’) as well as those bright-eyed young things brought by aspiring parents to see something a bit different from the usual seasonal flummery. In fact, what they experienced was not that far removed and it is easy to see that Shakespearean comedy and pantomime share some of the same Commedia Dell Arte roots.
Shakespeare’s shortest and daftest comedy has a nonsensical plot which features not simply one set of identical twins accidentally separated at birth but for good measure a second - and bizarrely they have the same names. Antipholus of Syracuse (Nicholas Karimi) and his servant, Dromio (Thomas Pickles) arrive in the Greek city of Ephesus, where not surprisingly - especially since they are dressed the same - they are mistaken for their twin brothers, respectively Antipholus of Ephesus (Hasan Dixon) and his servant, er, also a Dromio (Lewis Griffin).
What follows, the false accusations, the mistaken intentions, the inexplicable misunderstandings, chiefly involving Adriana (Rhiannon Handy) who knows she is married to one of the men, is pretty madcap stuff, glorious slapstick, with all the capering, strutting, tumbling and thrusting that Shakespeare’s audience loved and is still a glorious staple of modern pantomime.
Directed adroitly by Alex Thorpe, this is a full-on, headlong, breathless, beautifully choreographed dash through the play. Normally, ninety minutes without intermission would have been a long time for these kids to sit, especially as some of the language was understandably beyond them. But the sheer energy and brio of the actors, each of whom also played a musical instrument, carried the thing, made it riotously entertaining - and who much cared about the finer points of the plot anyway?
This may have been ‘Shakespeare for younger audiences’ but it was greatly enjoyed by those of the older generation who had managed to bluff their way in.
The Comedy Of Errors, First Encounters, Shakespeare for younger audiences, was at the York Theatre Royal on 29th and 30th November.
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The Comedy Of Errors Plays Out In York, 1st December 2018, 12:15 PM