Blanche McIntyre makes a formidable debut in this special space with a production of The Comedy of Errors that is as enchanting as it is hilarious.
It’s no small praise – given how often this piece, so sure-fire in its farcical dimensions, so tricky in its others, is staged – to say that it is the most completely satisfying account of the piece since Tim Supple’s acclaimed eerie/riotous RSC version which opened in Stratford and moved to the Young Vic nearly 20 years ago.
That production was on a studio scale and unfolded – in its almost balletic conjoining of the slapstick and the spiritual – in the intimate atmosphere fostered by traverse formation. McIntyre, in ways I am still trying fully to figure out manages to pull off a comparable feat in the great courtyard arena of the Globe, though at no sacrifice to the ordinary virtues of this environment: the horse-play with the groundlings is actually more of a joy than usual.
On the analogy of One Man, Two Guvnnors, this early Shakespeare play is a case of “One Play, Two Sets of Identical Twins” but it combines a dizzying gift for the complications of the psychologically unhinging comedy of mistaken identity with strong, saltily wafting intimations of the author’s own late romances – those plays in which families, sundered by shipwreck, are reunited by the belatedly benign gods. McIntyre takes all of this on board (so to speak) and the powerful charm of the production arises from the way she sounds the play’s depths with the lightest of touches.
True to the seaport setting, the Globe’s marble-effect pillars are ridiculously barnacled with marine bric-a-brac - not excluding a pink octopus with alarming powers of suction, when crossed. There’s a deliciously funny introductory mime, more Beckett at his most fetching than Shakespeare, in which the Ephesian Dromio (played with brilliant wit by Jamie Wilkes) is seen forlornly trying to extricate – with a long hooked pole – his newly-washed white droopy drawers from the line at an absurd height up in the rafters. No, you’re right – he doesn’t succeed, though there is an eventual pay-off to the gag that does the heart as well as the funny bone a power of good.
Slapstick it may be, but there’s also a weirdly haunting feel here in this added sequence that it is forecasting the wider reverberations of the play in mad miniature: a man trying to recapture something deeply intimate to him, and as yet unattainable. And so we are off on a joy-ride. The setting and costumes are a rum sort of medieval-Balkans-of-the-mind. The slightly tipsy, slewed effusions (oily clarinet, accordion, balalaika etc) of a Klezmer band reinforce Ephesus’s reputation for the occult and witchy. The performances are all psychologically true.
Matthew Needham and Simon Harrison, who must be the handsomest pair of Antipholuses on record, perform the no-holds-barred farcical aggro in a manner that succeeds in achieving a kind of insane delicacy. And with Hattie Ladbury and Becci Gemmell, the fusion of broad comedy and emotional pain in the two leading female characters is beautifully served.
The Globe should have McIntyre back as soon as is humanly possible.
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