Rylance is one of six actors realising Peter Oswald's adaptation of Plautus's Roman comedy. The island setting and shipwreck plot provide comic counterpoint to The Tempest, also at the Globe this season. Long-separated families, identity confusion and wild coincidence are the knockabout order of the day.
This production gives substance to Rylance's assertion in this newspaper before opening night that Plautus, who wrote between 205BC and 184BC, is "the originator of practically all the forms of modern comedy in prose". Indeed spotting the references in the chaos of Oswald's enjoyably anachronistic and deconstructionist version becomes something like a parlour game.
There's an air of a Victoria Wood sketch in the interplay between the two shipwrecked prostitutes, Palaestra and Ampelisca (Emma Lowndes and Jodie Whittaker). James Garnon's slave Sceparnio is laced with little bits of Hancock. Rylance himself is as arch a manipulator in each of his roles as any pantomime dame.
Best of all are his out-of-character moments when he steps forth as Mark Rylance to apologise for a low budget, a ropey old gag, plead for help from the audience or to demand that Plautus himself be contacted by phone to clear up a moot plot point.
Act II slows up on the daft-gag-a-minute strike rate, but enough goodwill has been engendered in the first half to tide us through Oswald's more plot-heavy stretch. Not that this is a hardship, as it is rewarding to watch the writer round up the chaotic character journeys - particularly as his resolutions are in favour of the women characters, who may otherwise have been left as dolly-bird plot devices from the darkest recesses of Plautine legacy, the 1970s sitcom.
Hundreds of miles away, at the Edinburgh Festival, comedians fill the pubs with dry talk of the history of comedy. They would have done better to head for the Globe. There, in The Storm, they will encounter a piece that will go down as such with students of comedy and punters alike.
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