The essentials of a successful Comedy of Errors are pace, wit, precision and invention. Edward Hall’s production for Propeller, embarking on a six-month, five-country tour, has all these and is distinguished from the typical Comedy of Errors by two features. As always with Propeller, the cast is all-male. This is not done by picking beardless boys for the female parts; the other play on tour, Richard III, uses quite different actors in the cross-gender roles. So Robert Hands, striding manfully on his high heels, power-dressed in aggressively male-female mode, supplies a fiercely funny masculine commentary on the termagant wife. Even more interesting is David Newman, the demurely gentle sister with the instant power of a Martial Arts expert!
The second feature is the atmosphere of fiesta that permeates the whole evening. Long before curtain, football-shirt-clad drifters fill the square of a little Spanish town with music, while assorted layabouts accost the audience. Every time an actor is not in character, he reverts to this ensemble, supplying sound effects, music and an active audience for the characters. And this goes on into the interval, the cast singing for charity on the Circle stairs.
The production style owes much to cartoon and circus, the latter reflected in Michael Pavenka’s colourful costumes and set. This is essentially an ensemble piece, but Dugald Bruce-Lockhart and Sam Swainsbury play the Antipholus twins with a light touch and impeccable timing, while the excellent Dromios are Richard Frame (wonderfully manic in the Greasy Nell speeches) and Jon Trenchard (who also contributes the wholly effective musical arrangements). And what of Dr. Pinch? These days the part is, seemingly inevitably, developed into a music-hall turn and Tony Bell’s hell-fire preacher from the Mid-West (of Lancashire) is definitely one of the more engaging.