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The Comedy of Errors at Manchester Royal Exchange

Published by: Caroline May on 9th Apr 2010 | View all blogs by Caroline May
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Shakespeare’s Plautus-originated farce about two pairs of twins separated at birth isn’t short of revivals, but here we have a perennial favourite completely fresh-minted in the Royal Exchange’s best production of the Bard since Greg Herzov’s Tempest.

 Guest director Roxana Silbert hasn’t felt the need to impose some radical interpretation, trendy concept or modern update on the play but lets it speak for itself - and how refreshing it is to see Shakespearean comedy, plain and unadorned, working so well on the stage 400 years after it was written.  The production is vigorous and unpretentious, with the bare-boned simplicity of those delightful outdoor shows that spring up around the country in the summer months. 

The casting needs to be absolutely perfect if the slapstick is to come over as knock-about comedy rather than cruel and sadistic, and the choice of ensemble is inspired: every actor is instantly likeable and the result is a charming and cheerful comedy of mistaken identities.  Sam Collings is notably winning as a well-heeled, sun-blocked Syracusean tourist, and the sparky relationship with his solicitous slave (Michael Jibson) veers between funny, tender, intimate and irritable as the day’s confusions ensue.  Jack Farthing as Antipholus’s long-lost brother has the arrogance and sense of entitlement of the handsome court favourite, and Owain Arthur as his bungling and abused servant is suitably long-suffering - the two blonde, chubby Dromios are a great double-act with a convincing resemblance to one another.

 Even the less colourful characters like the Duke of Ephesus (Munir Khairdin) and Egeon (Fred Ridgeway) are attractive and brimming with life, and Jan Chappell’s Abbess is impressive and imposing as she descends from the gods like a true deus (or dea) ex machina.

 There isn’t a stick of furniture on Anthony MacIlwaine’s stark stage - a plain white raised ring with a judiciously used revolve at its centre - so the action is never impeded and the focus is entirely on the characters.  This means that Steve Brown’s sound design and Chahine Yavroyan’s lighting are vital elements in creating a sense of place and atmosphere, and the costume department ably assists with lovely rich eastern fabrics cut in an Elizabethan interpretation of Byzantium.

 Resisting temptation to ham up the comic set-pieces, the production runs straight through in a modest 90 minutes without interval - a typical example of the evening’s elegance and restraint.  If this is accomplished piece is representative of Roxana Silbert’s work I hope the Royal Exchange invites her back at the earliest opportunity.


The Comedy of Errors is on until Saturday 8 May 2010

Prices: £8.50-£29.50

Evenings: Mon-Fri @ 7.30, Sat @ 8pm [not Tues 13 April]

Matinees: Wed @ 2.30, Sat @ 4pm and Tues 13 April @ 2.30

Box Office: 0161 833 9833



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