12 October 2019 | TheLittleSongbird
"How many fond fools serve mad jealousy!"
'The Comedy of Errors' is one of William Shakespeare's earliest plays and his shortest. Do not think it is one of his best (am more familiar with others, and some of those others are pretty special to me), being somebody who appreciates to loves them all. From personal opinion it's not even among my favourites of his comedies. It is still good fun, and any Shakespeare play is worth getting to know and see and read at least once.
Dominic Cooke's 2011 production, seen as part of the National Theatre Live cinema transmission series, is an intriguing one, though is not going to work for some. Those that prefer traditional productions that are faithful and not productions that have a different setting and concept are best staying away. Those though that don't mind seeing change are likely to get some entertainment value out of this. Belong somewhere in both camps myself, and while it doesn't completely succeed and is uneven it is fun enough and there are some good, even great, performances that elevate its quality.
For me, the production does try to do too much and could have thrown less ideas into the kitchen sink. It did make the production feel on the rushed and muddled side at times. Some of the comedy could have been toned down at times as well, it is played very broadly which is not inappropriate but it could have been done with more nuance. The start feels unsettled, feeling a little too exposition-heavy and one does feel the lengthiness a bit.
Although it is not an ugly-looking production as such, quite vibrant actually and done with wit, there could have been more of a sense of time and place or at least it could have been clearer (a bit of a mishmash at times). It shouldn't have been afraid to have a less is more approach, with the set design being more complicated than it needed and takes away from drama that is already complex enough as it is.
It sounds as if this production of 'The Comedy of Errors' was bad. To me, it wasn't at all. While not completely my cup of tea in more how they are used than the actual look of them, the production values are vibrant, mostly wittily and atmospherically handled and don't look cheap. The comedy is not perfectly handled, but enough of it is and what does work is very funny indeed. Cooke's stage direction is similarly flawed, but at least it's never dull, a lot of energetic vigour in fact, or too stagy and doesn't get distractingly distasteful. The character interaction is always witty and natural and there are some very clever and smooth scene changes (something that can be very problematic in productions for anything on stage, especially if they are large and complex). Did like the use of the band and the music choices, though that won't appeal to everybody either. The ending is touching and underneath all the mania and comedy there is a poignant depth, with the more dramatic moments handled with grace.
Most of the performances are good, though didn't think Chris Jarmon (a great job is done on the resemblance side it has to be said) was quite in the same ball-park as his other Antipholus Lenny Henry, being not as assured or as instinctive in the comic timing. Henry gives an admirable turn that shows good comic timing and assured charisma and when he does reign in when the staging allows he does that well too. Lucian Msamati has a blast and makes the most of a particularly great moments when describing un-trustworthy attractions. Pamela Nomvete is affecting in her role and Michelle Terry shows herself to be very adept in comedy, but it's a hilarious Claudie Blakely who takes the acting honours.
Summing up, quite fun but uneven. 6/10