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Review: THE COMEDY OF ERRORS at The Australian Shakespeare Company

The Comedy of Errors is playing as part of this year’s Shakespeare Under the Stars season until February 19th, 2022.

Review: THE COMEDY OF ERRORS at The Australian Shakespeare Company
Photography by Ben Fon

One of my favourite summer theatre experiences is back... Shakespeare Under the Stars! This annual Melbourne event presented by The Australian Shakespeare Company returns to the Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne with one of 'The Bard of Avon's' earliest comedies, The Comedy of Errors.

This farce is centred around the mistaken identity of two sets of identical twins, resulting in a hurlyburly of chaos over a 24-hour period. Does this plot sound familiar to you? If you have seen Rodgers and Hart's musical The Boys from Syracuse or the 1988 film Big Business, starring Bette Midler and Lily Tomlin, then that maybe why, as both are based on The Comedy of Errors. Shakespeare himself in turn based The Comedy of Errors on the Roman playwright Plautus' play Menaechmi, increasing plot complexity and depth with the addition of a second pair of identical twins as well as introducing new characters, detailed backstory, and additional themes.

While at times the plot can be difficult to follow, given that there are two sets of identical twins weaving in and out of the various scenes, this state of confusion drives the central narrative of the play. If, like the plays characters, you find yourself bamboozled by what is going on, be rest assured as the play draws to an end Shakespeare will provide you with an answer to all your who, what, why, when and how questions.

The current Australian Shakespeare Company's commedia dell'arte stylised production of The Comedy of Errors fits the play like a glove, with slick direction by Glenn Elston OAM. Elston states that The Comedy of Errors "... is what we all need right now, some unabashed silliness and wonderfully crazy characters...", and I could not agree more!

Greg Carroll's black and white sketch book like set design sets the scene and tone for the play perfectly and Karla Erenbot's boldly colourful costumes bring the archetype of each character vividly to life. The actors all excel in their deliverance of the slapstick 'Punch and Judy' humour, never missing a beat and ensuring the audience has a plethora of 'laugh out loud' moments throughout the performance.

While the entire cast was excellent, a performance that was particularly hilarious and highly memorable was Maverick Newman as the Abbess, Emelia. Newman's character interpretation of Emelia is best described as a mixture of Lady Bracknell from The Importance of Being Earnest and Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham, from Downton Abbey. In other words, hilarious stiff upper lip comedy at its best. Madeleine Somers as Luciana also delivered a particularly comical stage exit on roller blades.

Of course the outdoor setting at Southern Cross Lawn at the Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne is, as always, a highlight of Shakespeare Under the Stars that will continue to please both new and returning theatre goers. There is something about watching a Shakespearean play outside amidst nature, while the sun sets on a hot summer day and the sky transitions to night, that will always seem magical.

The Comedy of Errors is playing as part of this year's Shakespeare Under the Stars season until February 19th, 2022. For more information and to buy tickets please visit shakespeareaustralia.com.au.

Review: THE COMEDY OF ERRORS at The Australian Shakespeare Company
Photography by Ben Fon


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