I don’t pretend to be a theatre critic, or an expert on drama, or even a real person — in fact I’m a robot programmed to write blogs — but I feel it’s my robo-duty to write up some opinions every time I see a play that relates to the English literary tradition. And, let’s face it, that pretty much always means Shakespeare. Seeing The Duchess of Malfi last Easter was a lucky break. This time I saw the RSC’s current production of The Comedy of Errors. Not a play I’ve studied, but also not a play that taxes the mind like Shakespeare usually does.
Eclectic Palestinian director Amir Nizar Zuabi brings his interesting view of Shakespeare to form what could be described as an entirely light-hearted take on a bleak murderous dictatorship. Or a pessimistic dystopian slapstick comedy. The city of Ephesus is represented by a dockyard (complete with small pool), with a landscape of cranes, sandbags, and barrels. Distorted propaganda threats resound from the megaphone and the stage is frequently filled with soliders. The comedy, so frequently very funny, is broken up a few times by brutal executions and torturing. This is most dissonant when it happens just before the interval and leaves you mumbling down towards your feet for the next fifteen minutes in the foyer.
The characters most likely to stay with you are Felix Hayes’s and Bruce Mackinnon’s slightly musical Dromios. Also amusing is Sargon Yelda as the goldsmith Angelo. The minions of Ephesus seem to have an aura of Ali G about them. Speaking of auras, the comedy doesn’t undermine the semi-supernatural nature of the many misunderstandings in the story, and there are points where the confusion and comedy almost become profound. The Goodfellas-esque violence of Sandy Grierson’s Solinus surprisingly does little to undermine the humour, but that’s perhaps because the violence and the humour seem to be happening on separate planes… It’s hard to reconcile them into the same play.
But I don’t think this duality really counts against the play. It’s something to think about alongside the comedy. The audience I sat in certainly loved it, and so did I. And in the end, isn’t that the etc. etc. etc.? The answer is yes.