Tuesday, September 24, 2013

WILD TIME IN THE OLD TOWN - A COMEDY OF ERRORS

 BELL SHAKESPEARE COMPANY - THEATRE ROYAL, HOBART

The word “immigration” is displayed in lights above each pair of a row of double frosted-glass doors. A dispirited elderly man in charity-bin clothing – too-large trousers, shabby old-fashioned brown sports jacket - listens to a disembodied voice from a loudspeaker informing him that he has entered the country illegally and must suffer the mandatory penalty – death. 

Fortunately, although some members may secretly applaud the idea, not even our new Government's Asylum Seeker policy goes quite as far as the opening scene of A Comedy of Errors.

It's always fun to see a fresh take on a well-known classic, and this time Shakespeare's ridiculously over-the-top story of separated twins, mistaken identities, outraged women and eventual family re-union is set, ostensibly, in Kings Cross. The Bell Shakespeare Company has created a surreal and sleazy world of suspicion, double-dealing, physical violence, sex, superstition and religion where employees are beaten with impunity, police officers obligingly arrest people on request, and time is manipulated to suit the plot.

Dromio of Ephesus (Hazem Shammas),  Antipholus of
Ephesus (
Septimus Caton),  Angelo (Demitrios Sirilas)
and  Balthasar (
Anthony Taufa) discuss business
The frosted glass doors become in turn entrances to pawnshops, brothels, nightclubs, an apartment block and finally an abbey. Shadows moving behind the glass suggest lewd and suspicious characters lurking in the background. 

There are ladies of the night of questionable gender, “merchants” who surely deal in substances other than gold, a gangster Duke whose command must be obeyed and various other dubious figures – the ten-person cast make a lot of very quick costume changes!

Doors also provide plenty of opportunity for standard slapstick situations: pratfalls as people run into them, other people hiding behind them, almost the entire company at times chasing each other in and out of them. 
The comedy is fast-paced and beautifully timed, in particular the chase scene. Everybody, getting completely off their faces at a disco, huddles together for a drunken group "selfie". Only when inspecting the result do the women realise the two men they have been pursuing are right there - in their photograph! The chase resumes . . . 

Antipholus of Syracuse (Nathan O'Keefe) and Luciana
(Jude Henshall) share an intimate moment
with a washing machine
Nathan O'Keefe and Septimus Caton play the Antipholus twins, becoming progressively more confused, angry and alarmed as strangers hail them as old friends and friends attribute to them conversations they can't recall.

 Renato Musolino and Hazem Shammas, in Bogan uniform of beanie, flannie shirt, runners and trackie dacks, are the Dromio twins and play the Shakespearean ill-treated clown with the appropriate mix of enthusiasm, indignation, resentment and bad puns.

As Adriana, Elena Carapetis is splendid in skin-tight leopard-print top with matching car-to-bar heels, and Jude Henshall as Luciana makes her entrance reclining on a tanning bed wearing a very skimpy bikini and a large set of headphones. They both succeed in being delightfully dreadful.

Suzannah McDonald is very funny as both the Courtesan and Emelia; I particularly enjoyed her lisping Abbess.


The Courtesan (Suzannah McDonald), makes up her
mind to visit Adriana
Combined with the formal language of Shakespeare, the incongruity of exaggeratedly showy and tasteless costumes and twenty-first century sun bed, washing machine, exercise bike, ping-pong tables, digital cameras and mobile phones transports us to a dystopian alternative reality where the ludicrous series of misunderstandings and coincidences becomes feasible and believable. What a wonderful romp!




Bell Shakespeare Company

Comedy of Errors; Theatre Royal, Hobart. 20 September, 2013
Cast:
Nathan O'Keefe
Septimus Caton
Renato Musolino
Hazem Shammas
Elena Carapetis
Jude Henshall
Eugene Gilfedder
Anthony Taufa
Demitrios Sirilas
Suzannah McDonald

Director: Imara Savage
Designer: Pip Runciman


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