At the end of a week that featured sweltering days, thunderstorms, and occasional flash flood – AKA “Melbourne” – a fun and frenetic, sometimes-anarchic, always-entertaining production of William Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors was presented by the Melbourne Shakespeare Company in the St. Kilda Botanical Gardens.
Set in the city of Ephesus, the story follows Antipholus and his servant Dromio who have travelled from Syracuse to search for Antipholus’ twin brother (who I guess because their parents really, really liked the name and I’m sure wouldn’t have led to any mix-ups later on? – is also called Antipholus) and his twin brother’s twin servant (also called Dromio).
With two sets of the same face arriving in town, it doesn’t take long for confusion to occur that spirals into calamity before all-out chaos hilariously reigns.
Music is always one of the strongest elements that Melbourne Shakespeare Company weave into their shows and here is no exception.
A barbershop quartet, dressed like caretakers, weave their way in and out of the action with an eclectic playlist of traditional barbershop standards, Simpson’s quotes, musical parody, and TikTok references to lift the action and comedy and help keep things moving.
And there are a lot of things moving in this production, sometimes too much. The amount of “stuff” heaped on top of the text in some scenes was prodigious and had the unfortunate effect of labouring the storytelling instead of benefitting it.
The urge to milk single words for their pun potential is laudable, but I wasn’t convinced the audience were fully along for the ride of shoe antics, quill-fighting, and cream pie tangents to make the respective utterances of “heels” “drew” and “basting” work.
The most effective moments came when those extra-extra embellishments fell away, allowing the characters the opportunity to inhabit the words and speak their lines without many distractions.
Nicola Bowman and Joanna Halliday were brilliant in their performances as the two Dromios, navigating the noise onstage to lift their characters to be valued companions to the – what’s the plural of Antipholus? Antipholi? – to their masters.
In those roles, Callum Mackay and Jonathan Peck did excellent work as the Antipholus, committing to no small amount of physical comedy without ever losing a word.
Building on this quartet were strong performances from the rest of the cast, particularly Anna Francesca Armenia as the Courtesan, May Jasper as Egeon and Pinch, and Bridget Sweeney as the Officer and Luce.
Rather than an “azure sky of deepest summer”, the cast and crew of The Comedy of Errors braved an overcast, blustery evening to put on an impressive and entertaining show.
The Comedy of Errors
The Rose Garden – St. Kilda Botanical Gardens, 11 Herbert Street, St Kilda
Performance: Friday 3 December 2021
Season continues to 19 December 2021
Information and Bookings: www.melbourneshakespeare.com
Image: The Comedy of Errors – courtesy of Melbourne Shakespeare Company
Review: David Collins