Review: RSC's Comedy Of Errors Is An Improvement On Shakespeare's Original

Comedy of Errors, Barbican Theatre ★★★★★

Review: RSC's Comedy Of Errors Is An Improvement On Shakespeare's Original Comedy of Errors, Barbican Theatre 5
Fans of The Play That Goes Wrong will lap up the knockabout and deadpan comedy. Image: Pete Le May © RSC

One of Shakespeare's earliest works, The Comedy Of Errors lacks the razor-sharp wit and deep philosophical insights that characterise Twelfth Night or Hamlet. Thankfully, that hasn't stopped RSC director Phillip Breen from creating a version for the ages.

Breen's creativity during this play's longer-than-planned gestation takes the breath away. Image: Pete Le May © RSC

Fans of The Play That Goes Wrong will lap up the knockabout and deadpan comedy here, as the story of two pairs of identical twins and mistaken identity descends into a superbly funny madcap farce with dashes of poignancy. Once the initial premise is set up, Breen's direction is pacy, vigorous and entrancing. The diction may be a little too fast in places but that's a minor casualty in a production which gallops along for almost three hours.

The RSC are known for taking risks with the Bard's works. Image: Pete Le May © RSC

The RSC are known for taking risks with the Bard's works but Breen's creativity during this play's longer-than-planned gestation takes the breath away. When actor Hedydd Dylan became pregnant, Breen worked that into the production. A new comedy dynamic is added by interpreting an incidental character called "the second merchant" as a deaf mafioso (William Grint) complete with a burly signer/bodyguard (Dyfrig Morris).

This adaptation constantly finds exciting ways to enliven overlong or verbose segments. Image: Pete Le May © RSC

Breen is keenly aware of the play's failings, especially where the script lacks bite or modern relevance, and he constantly finds exciting ways to enliven overlong or verbose segments. Music and dance intersperse the action; one scene is presented as a yoga workout, and the fourth wall is broken at one point, with a character begging the audience: "Come on, these jokes are over 400 years old. Help me out here!"

Make no mistake: what this take on The Comedy Of Errors may lack in fidelity to the original, it more than makes up for through creative staging and sheer entertainment value.

The Comedy of Errors, Barbican Theatre, £20-£57.50, until 31 December

Last Updated 26 November 2021