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Masterful company brings Shakespeare to life

Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors encompasses a tale of outrageous confusion, mistaken identities and the potential to reunite a long-separated family. Director Amir Nizar Zuabi and the Royal Shakespeare Company tackle this hilarious yet sometimes dark masterpiece, performing at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-Upon-Avon. The show runs through May 14, then July 16-Oct. 6.

About 30 years before the story begins, Egeon (Nicholas Day), a merchant from Syracuse, fathers twin boys, both of whom he names Antipholus. He purchases another set of twin boys, both named Dromio, to serve his sons. While traveling via ship, a storm separates Egeon from his wife Emilia (Cecilia Noble) and one pair of son and servant. In search of the other half of his family, Egeon embarks on a journey to Ephesus, where unbeknownst to him, the lost Antipholus and Dromio have resided for years.

His other son and servant are also coincidentally arriving in Ephesus, attempting to find their twins. In the midst of what is bound to result in a family reunion, Egeon is arrested for not possessing the proper credentials that allow him to legally enter Ephesus. He is sentenced to death at the end of the day unless he finds a friend to ransom him from the authorities.

Totally ignorant to their father?s plight are Antipholus of Syracuse (Jonathan McGuinness) and Dromio of Syracuse (Bruce Mackinnon). They are also in the country illegally, but have managed to avoid being detected. To their great astonishment, they find themselves treated as family by the locals: Antipholus is even made to believe that he has a very pushy wife, Adriana (Kirsty Bushell), although as they become better acquainted, he decides he prefers her younger sister, Luciana (Emily Taaffe). Poor Dromio is practically assaulted by Nell (Sarah Belcher), a very rotund and aggressive kitchen maid who insists he belongs only to her.

While the Syracusian pair are enjoying the unexpected friendliness and good fortune that continues to come their way, the Ephesian Antipholus (Stephen Hagan) and his Dromio (Felix Hayes) are encountering troubled times. Being denied access to their own home (as they have mistakenly been replaced by their twins) is only the first of many unpleasant and frustrating mix-ups they experience.

As the confusion mounts maddeningly, an explosive and dangerous conclusion is in store for the disorderly family.

I am not generally a fan of Shakespeare, as I find his language to be too indirect to easily decipher. In spite of this, the Royal Shakespeare Company?s superb production captured my undivided attention and made me genuinely appreciate the story. I was able to comprehend the lines, due mainly to the way they were delivered.

The actors? gestures and facial expressions made each character believable and I grasped concepts I might have otherwise missed. There were no microphones for the company, so the audience relied on the players? abilities to project their voices. Only in the first scene did I have trouble hearing some of the lines.

Although The Comedy of Errors originally takes place in the 16th century, it was given a modern-day twist through the costuming and sets. The set was quite remarkable: Adriana?s dining room was lowered onto the stage from above, with the actors seated inside. The free-standing front door to their home was brought on stage in a similar fashion. A steeply sloped wooden backdrop that covered the entire upstage provided a place for the actors to run up and jump off of, such as when Dromio of Syracuse tries to escape Nell?s grasp.

The music was done in the most interesting manner I?ve seen in a live production. During scene change, about half a dozen band members carrying various instruments walked onstage in costumes corresponding to the scene and played until the change was complete. This, in addition to sound effects projected through speakers, combined to bring an authentic and artistic feel to the show.

Although all of the characters were unique and very well played, my favorites were definitely the Dromio twins. At first, since I wasn?t familiar with the plot, I thought Hayes and Mackinnon were the same person. Only after a closer examination of their faces did I realize they were two different actors. I attribute this to their impressive mastery in imitating each other?s mannerisms and vocal intonations.

Not only did the Dromios successfully match their physical appearances, they were also equally hilarious and contributed heavily to the comedic aspects of this show. Mackinnon?s Dromio was more submissive: he was a lovable, well-meaning man who quickly endeared himself to the audience. Hayes?s Dromio was more assertive and his entrance with Antipholus of Ephesus involved him rapping and dancing, evoking hearty laughter from the crowd.

McGuinness and Hagan did a commendable job as the Antipholuses, although their significant height and age differences made them seem less like twins than their servants. They created believable characters and made the audience happy to witness the good luck of Syracusian Antipholus and sympathetic to the misfortune of Ephesian Antipholus. Hagan played an amusing part, as he was followed by a posse of men who broke out into synchronized humming at his cue.

Bushell?s portrayal of Adriana was another source of humor. She perfectly exemplified a bossy, high maintenance, neglected wife. Her tirades upon noticing her ?husband?s? lack of interest in her were hilarious. I also commend Bushell for marching about the stage in extremely high heels without tripping.

Despite the many humorous moments, there were also sinister tones to The Comedy of Errors, such as the opening scene where Egeon is being held captive by the Duke of Ephesus and his henchmen, who are torturing him for information about why he is in the country illegally.

The Royal Shakespeare Company?s rendition of The Comedy of Errors was by far the most well done Shakespeare production I?ve had the privilege to witness. They truly lived up to their reputation as one of the world?s best Shakespeare companies in the world.

For more drama reviews, read the March 19 article, 1000th ‘Memphis’ performance displays energy.

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