The Comedy of Errors at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre
This is undoubtedly Shakespeare's silliest play, with a plot so preposterous that it would be too far-fetched for the opera house, but with its mixture of low farce, wild coincidences, awful puns and slapstick it's an ideal crowd-pleaser for the Globe.
Based on a play by Plautus, it tells of how a merchant from Syracuse is apprehended in Ephesus while seeking his lost twin sons. Unknown to him, they are both at present in the city and both accompanied by twin serving men. To make things even more confusing, both sons are called Antipholus and both servants are called Dromio. Needless to say, there are plenty of opportunities for mistaken identity before it all ends happily ever after.
There are two ways of performing this play: one is to have each twin played by a different actor, the other is to have two actors playing four parts - and this is the option that director Kathryn Hunter has opted for. Hunter has stressed the mystical nature of Ephesus (helped considerably by Mia Soteriou's evocative music). What this doesn't explain, however, is how both Antipholuses decide to wear the same clothes - particularly as, early on, the Syracusean twin bemoans that his garb marks him as a stranger.
The play is taken at a frantic pace, helped considerably by Marcello Magni's inspired playing of the two Dromios; this is probably the most energetic performance that will grace a London stage this year. The problem with Magni's playing is that it tends to over-shadow every other actor; that was certainly the case in the Globe's Merchant of Venice last year and although The Comedy of Errors is a play that's better able to withstand his frantic playing, it does mean that all other actors seem to struggle in his shadow.
This is especially true of Vincenzo's Nicoli's Antipholus - his playing seems tame compared to Magni's even though he is subjected to just as many bizarre adventures. It seems harsh to criticise anyone as talented as Signor Magni, as no-one can deny that he is a magnificent clown, but the result is that the play is often very flat when he's off stage.
Nor do Hunter's bits of business always work; a dialogue between Antipholus and Dromio is transformed into a tennis match - at first sight highly amusing but which completely distracts the audience from the test. However, in the scene involving the mountebank, Pinch (a nicely judged performance from Harry Gostelow), there are some clever additions of cod Latin that liven this often tedious scene.
The Comedy of Errors is not great art but it's an entertaining evening out; the audience thoroughly enjoyed it and you'd have to be a killjoy not to find it fun - but watch out for the flying fish!