Grays Inn Hall (Antic Disposition)
This was a bit of a last minute one for me – I don’t know when I booked the tickets but I’d managed to forget I was going. And if I’d missed out that would have been a real shame*.
So A Comedy of Errors – an early Shakespeare play, based on Plautus, conforms to the Aristotelian unities of time, place and action, the one with all the twins and a healthy dose of physical violence… It’s also one of the shortest plays (according to the program, it’s about as long as the role of Hamlet). Antic Disposition decided to fill the gaps with music, updating the setting to a twenties hotel complete with gangsters and chanteuses – a stroke of setting genius.
It also requires a doubly talented cast – one that can not only convincingly act Shakespearean comedy, but also play or sing (casting must have been a nightmare, especially when you’ve also got to get two sets of twins out of your leading actors). Luckily Antic Disposition have talent in spades. Ellie Ann Lowe and Giovanna Ryan especially could have a nice side-line as a jazz duo on saxophone and bass to go alongside their great double act as sisters Adriana and Luciana.
The four leads – William de Coverley and Alex Hooper as the two Antipholuses (Antipholi?) and Keith Higinbotham and Andrew Venning as their respective Dromios – were a fabulously well-matched quartet, similar enough to make all the confusion very understandable but with distinct personalities that developed through the mayhem – Dromio of Ephesus was markedly more stupid than his brother, which I put down to the relative numbers of beatings the two probably had. Antipholus of Ephesus was definitely more short-tempered than his brother, but then his experience of the day involved much less in the way of gifts and sexual favours and much more in the way of missed dinners and requests for money…
The rest of the cast were also great – Philip Mansfield playing Dr Pinch as a terrible magician (which is harder than you might think) and doubling up as a cockney crime boss with a touch of the Untouchables. Paul Sloss was a very dandy and ever-so-slightly (!) camp goldsmith, while Paul Croft was both a befuddled Officer and a suitably miserable Egeon. Louise Templeton was great as Emelia and a reluctant magician’s assistant – come to think of it, I don’t think the latter role had any words, but she managed to speak volumes…
This production was staged in the hall at Gray’s Inn, where the first recorded production took place (when I wrote about where Shakespeare was put on I managed to leave this one out – but what I said about Middle Temple goes for Gray’s Inn as well).
The confines of the hall lead to an extremely minimalist set (one doorframe, a microphone, two chairs and a beautiful “Hotel” sign) which I think actually enhanced the comedy – especially the scene where Antipholus of Ephesus is trying to get in his house. The whole comedy descended into hilarious farce as the two sets of twins are being chased through the town, with a wonderful Benny Hill scene using all the hall exits and entrances.
It was all just glorious FUN. I can’t wait for the next set of antics.
* I was disappointed last year to miss getting to see their WW1-set Henry V – the more so as the links between Agincourt and the trenches seem to be piling up.