It’s always interesting to speculate which of Shakespeare’s plays will respond to the direct no-nonsense approach of Northern Broadsides. In prospect Comedy of Errors seemed well suited to Barrie Rutter’s pacy direction and skilled handling of farcical situations, but could these slick metropolitan types be realised in mid-Pennine terms?
In truth Northern Broadsides’ production style has evolved over the past 15 years. The trademark oil-drum percussion has given way in this production to a neat little group playing Conrad Nelson’s jazzy film score music, with several skilled actor-musicians among the new and new-ish company members. Accents can be played down or varied: here we have Scouse Dromios and a Scottish Courtesan, both admittedly Northern accents, but traditionally Broadsides seldom strayed further west than Accrington or further north than Redcar.
The production style, hinting at caricature with its cartoon-character entrances and musical tags, has the subtlety and pace to prime the comedy – once the slow exposition is over. A prisoner in Ephesus, Egeon explains at length the separation in a ship-wreck of himself, one twin-son and one twin-servant from his wife and the other twins. Barrie Rutter’s staging perhaps relies over-much on his sonorous delivery as Egeon to hold the interest here and, though the confusions of identity start on the arrival of son Antipholus and servant Dromio from Syracuse, the comedy ticks over fairly gently in a very short first half. The sublime inanities based around two sets of twins, identical in appearance, dress and (inexplicably) name, have to wait for the longer second half.
For once both sets of twins are alike enough to justify the confusion of friends, family and creditors: even the Liverpool accents, mildly irritating at first, are a useful identifier for the Dromios. Andrew Cryer, as Antipholus of Syracuse, adds the ability to generate fury from a standing start to his Bilko-like swagger and precise sense of absurd gesture. His Dromio (Conrad Nelson) brings a particular relish to the set-piece comparison of his spherical “kitchen wench” and the globe. The Ephesus pairing (Conor Ryan and Simon Holland Roberts) take their lead from the boys from Syracuse in less striking, but complementary, performances, and Adriana, wife to Antipholus of Ephesus, hits heights of comic intensity in a fine performance by Zoe Lambert (who also plays a mean accordion).
Design (by Giuseppe Belli and Emma Barrington-Binns) necessarily involves a fairly minimal set: at some venues in-house features can be exploited, like the Viaduct’s iron pillars, made for climbing. A central octagonal space hints at a promenade or bandstand and bright updated costumes complete the holiday mood.
- Ron Simpson (reviewed at the Viaduct Theatre, Halifax)