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Review: The Comedy of Errors, Newcastle Theatre Royal

The players in Propeller's The Comedy of Errors give 110% commitment as David Whetstone reports

***
Propeller's The Comedy of Errors
Propeller's The Comedy of Errors

This is a Shakespeare comedy that doesn’t leave a modern audience wondering what the heck’s supposed to be so funny.

Its plot hinges on a double case of mistaken identity, on young masters and their manservants getting separated in a shipwreck and growing up apart, and this works as well today as it did in the 16th Century.

Add slapstick and marital disharmony and you have the recipe for a surefire rib-tickler. That’s the play.... now for the production.

Propeller, Edward Hall’s all-male company, have been coming to the Theatre Royal for quite a few years and they invariably give 110% commitment (to mimic the maths of the post-match footie interview).

In this case I did feel myself wondering if 90% wouldn’t have been enough.

As well as the funny wigs and costumes, which are pretty much par for the course, we had wheelie bins and gospel singing and an electronic buzzer device.

The play seemed to come at us with tremendous force, the words spattering out.

Designer Michael Pavelka explains in the programme that the look sought for Shakesapeare’s Ephesus was of “a run-down piazza in a run-down port in a Tenerife or Capri lookalike” – all the setting for stags and hens, police corruption and black market racketeering.

Into this run-down piazza come Antipholus of Syracuse and his manservant, Dromio of Syracuse, baffling those familiar with the strangers’ resident lookalikes, Antipholus and Dromio of Ephesus.

In these roles, the respective pairings of Dan Wheller and Will Featherstone, and Joseph Chance and Matthew McPherson, spare not a tiny droplet of performance-generated perspiration. If they played for your team, you wouldn’t doubt their loyalty to the shirt.

But there came a point when the script started to lose its inherent fizz and I found myself pressing against the back of my seat.

Partly, I reckon, this is down to Propeller’s gender quirk.

It is, explains Hall, “an all-male Shakespeare company that mixes a rigorous approach to the text with a modern physical aesthetic”.

It sounds like something you’d see pinned up in the dressing room of a football team managed by Sam Allardyce or Tony Pulis.

Even the Abbess (a statuesque Alasdair Craig) looked like ‘she’ would make a decent centre-half. I found myself longing for some real femininity on stage.

This play alternates with A Midsummer Night’s Dream until Saturday.

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