Review: The Comedy of Errors, The Place, Bedford

As part of a collaboration with The Place, Bedford, we are publishing reviews by three young writers between June and August 2019. This is by 17 year old Jamie Williams.

Who would have thought that the beach, the sun and the seaside could be transported to landlocked, drizzly Bedford? SE Theatre Company certainly did. Performed at the Place Theatre, Bedford, this version of The Comedy of Errors is a maritime masterpiece of mistaken identity. The gender-swapped production is helped in no small part by Elliott Wallis’ steadfast direction and nautical, rustic set design; a shack that houses all the props adds to the shipwrecked feeling of the play’s exposition; orange netting, crates, and the occasional newspaper cone of fish and chips are strewn about, providing a sense of the carnage to come.

The actors swiftly and skilfully flit through Shakespeare’s shortest play, with song and dance, making every word count and their infectious enthusiasm and love for the Bard are a joy to behold. This is personified in Kirsty Williamson’s Antipholus of Syracuse (for the male leads are now female, and sometimes vice versa), with her playful, innocent exterior fleshed out to a forceful fire when raging at one or other of the Dromios. Her exasperated Ephesian counterpart (Ruth Mestel) is an easy-going yet inquisitive Tweedledum to Lauren Mead’s acerbic, anguished (Tweedle) Dromio of Ephesus. A wry, weary, witty (and sometimes saucy) Rachael Sparks plays Dromio of Syracuse with exuberant panache. Although some of the cast have a tendency to shout, the contrast of the sisterhood relationship of Williamson and Sparks and the conventional master-slave dialectic of Mestel and Mead’s duo is startlingly good to watch.

In Shakespeare’s original, Antipholus of Ephesus has a wife, Adriana. This version swaps Adriana for Adriano, who is played with preening vanity and melodramatic hilarity by Simão Vaz. This humorous, wailing wreck of a man shows that swapping genders can catapult a play into a higher and undiscovered gear. His partner in crime (should be partner in wine) is his sister Luciana (Fiona Munro), constantly swigging alcohol from a bottle, a flask and a fishbowl – the archetype of a ‘cool wine aunt.’ The scheming, sly (and sometimes tipsy) brother-sister double is one of the highlights of the play. Last but not least, Liam Alexandru- a jack-of-all-trades if ever there was one- struts, peacock-like around the space, acting as compére with a chipper majesty to match his character Angelo’s conniving swagger. His suave, sleazy, catty Courtesan prowls, purring, with a mean streak, while his hippy, celery -munching Doctor Pinch is best described as Forrest Gump meets Liam Gallagher.

The high quality of acting is given space to breathe due to the simple stage space and the minimal set means that the actors have more time to think on the Bard’s tricksy lines. Wallis’ invigorating direction and knack for comic timing opens up a fresh reworking of one of the Bard’s oldest plays. Every word is savoured like beachside fish and chips and the cast perform the show with visible relish for Shakespeare’s wordplay. In effect, the impossible happens. Brighton, the beach, and the Bard came to Bedford, in a comedy with very few errors indeed.

The Comedy of Errors ran at The Place, Bedford from 16 until 20 July.