For his Regent's Park directing debut, Philip Franks has conjured up a 1940s vision of Ephesus. In his programme notes, he compares Ephesus to wartime Casablanca - the same iron law coupled with the emphasis on trading. What we get inside is something more akin to Carry On Up the Casbah, a frantic blend of music and slapstick.
There's nothing particularly wrong with that. Shakespeare’s story of two sets of separated identical twins has plenty of scope for invention, but the effect does mean that the more picaresque aspects of the goings on at Ephesus - what Antipholus of Syracuse describes as a “town full of cozenage” are missing. For example, many directors have made much more of the charlatan Pinch than does Franks, presenting him as a dry Scottish doctor.
Franks has also underplayed the unhappiness of the marriage between Adriana and Antipholus - and it’s this that lies at the heart of much of the play’s various confusions.
Daniel Weyman’s Antipholus of Syracuse never really convinces as the bewildered vistor, constantly mistaken for his twin. However, Daniel Llewellyn-Williams does capture some the rage of the Ephesian Antipholus, although there could be more anger as he is subjected to various indignities.
Neither Joseph Kloska nor Josh Cohen, as the two Dromios, get to grips with the quick-fire wordplay of the roles, both failing to explore the comic possibilities of the confusion. Thankfully, the slapstick elements that Franks has introduced work well - as do the songs. We even get a taste of Marlene Dietrich courtesy of Anna-Jane Casey performing Hot Voodoo, complete with the inevitable gorilla costume.
Franks' sees the play as a boisterous, exuberant romp - for this reason it would be an ideal production to take someone who thinks that he or she doesn't like Shakespeare. And there are some poignant moments too; Christopher Ravenscroft's hapless Aegeon reunited with his lost wife Veronica Roberts' Emilia, and their sons, provides a touching end to the play.
This production has a lot to recommend it: it’s full of pace, invention and wit. It makes great use of Gideon Davey’s set and the musical numbers all work. If there had been more attention paid to drawing out the best of the comedy, this could have been dazzling.