Josh Cohen (Dromio), Daniel Llewelyn-Williams (Antipholus) and Christopher Logan (Officer) get farcical in The Comedy of Errors at Regent's Park Open Air Theatre. Photo by Manuel Harlen
Shakespeare's Comedy of Errors has been moved to 1940s Casablanca for the Regent Park Open Air Theatre's latest production. The Courtesan is a nightclub hostess; the twin servants sport fezzes; and an on-stage swing band provides tunes to make the comedy dance.
With every one of Shakespeare's joke and puns pulled to life, it makes for a wonderfully hapless Brits-abroad kind of farce. And only occasionally spills over into Carry on Shakespeare.
(But if you hide two of your heroes in a couple of man-sized wicker baskets, one fat, one thin, Carry On will always spring to mind.)
The Comedy of Errors is the one with the twins. Two sets of twins, in fact. Both, for the purposes of comedy, with the same names: Antipholus and Dromio. In Epheseus (here advertised by a massive 1940s-holiday style billboard at the back of the stage), there's an old man in trouble with the law, with an incredible story. His wife and twin sons, plus another couple of twins he picked up along the way, were shipwrecked when the boys were tiny. Now he's due to be put to death, he's given a day to look for his boys.
Once the initial exposition scene is over, the comedy of two identical twins hanging around the same small town can begin. There's an upset wife, money owed, confused servants and an expensive gold chain, possibly in the wrong hands.
Philip Franks' production is blessed with a brace of brilliant comic actors. Time and again you think "I like this Dromio, he's the funny one," only to realise it's the other who's making you giggle, more than matching the first. (Great work from Joseph Kloska and Josh Cohen.) Sisters Adriana (Jo Herbert) and Luciana (Sophie Roberts) are also pitch-perfect; serious enough at first, then, in Luciana's case, fully deserving of stacks of praise for keeping a straight face while doing Shakespeare in a swimsuit, one wedge heel and one flipper.
Our one quibble is with the introduction of musical numbers: when the comedy is this good, it seems a shame to step out of the play and perform a song. One burlesque-y turn by Anna-Jane Casey as The Courtesan is enough; two are too many. And having Antipholus break into song on the beach is even less successful.
It's a minor complaint about an otherwise fantastic, stylish production. It's very silly play: a middle that here totally abandons any subtlety in favour of comedy, bookended with a serious start and a tear-jerking finale. We haven't enjoyed a Shakespeare comedy this much for a very long time.