“Expelliarmus!” You’re not expecting a Harry Potter disarming charm to pop up in a Shakespearean comedy but that’s the magic of theatre. Anything can happen.
Antic Disposition’s madcap production of The Comedy of Errors pays homage to a whole multiplex of movies – from Grand Hotel and Some Like It Hot to The Godfather and Keystone Cops. There’s even a line from The 39 Steps plus, from the small screen, more than a nod to Fawlty Towers.
But they can be forgiven for borrowing heavily from Hollywood when the original comedy was, itself, taken from Plautus’ Menaechmi.
Comedy of Errors opened at London’s Gray’s Inn Hall on Monday and it couldn’t be a more fitting venue. Although now more used as a banqueting hall the space played host to Shakespeare’s original production in 1594. What goes around comes around, as they say.
One of The Bard’s shortest plays, it is also one of his funniest. A daft, riotously funny farce about two sets of twins who, through nothing more than a simple plot device, find themselves switching in and out of each other’s lives.
Alex Hooper, visually a vast improvement on Basil Fawlty, all razor sharp cheekbones and model good looks, plays hotel manager, Antipholus and he has a pesky bellboy servant called Dromio who is always getting a whack around the ear for no good reason.
He manages the Bay of Ephesus Hotel, a rather grand establishment owned by the local Mafia Don, Solinus. One sunny day Solinus stops a visiting merchant and threatens to kill him unless a ransom is paid.
The merchant explains that he is looking for his twin sons – and their twin boy servants – one set of who was lost in a shipwreck.
By a quirk of fate – that can only happen in a movie or on stage – two strangers arrive in town and they bear a startling resemblance to Antipholus and Dromio. What’s more, they have identical names.
Before you know it the four men are mixed up in a major switcheroo with the hotel manager’s poor wife, Adriana (Ellie Ann Lowe), utterly confused as to whether she has been bedding her husband or his doppelganger.
In-between scenes we are treated to the hotel’s splendid cabaret, a Monroe-like torch singer (Susie Broadbent) and her band, who give the audience a night of smoky jazz and blues.
For a comedy there are few laughs in its opening but the scene with Solinus (Philip Mansfield) and Paul Croft’s Egeon serves to set up the off-the-wall lunacy which follows.
Directors Ben Horslen and John Risebero have come up with a pacy comedy thriller which sees Dromio (Andrew Venning) utter the immortal Potter spell while brandishing a feather and the rest of the cast hurtling through the building in a crazy chase sequence.
William de Coverly (a fantastic name for an actor) as the visiting Antipholus, does his best to resist the attentions of his twin’s confused and demanding wife while his poor manservant (Venning) tries to avoid the sweaty paws of a fat, randy, kitchen maid.
Keith Higinbotham is brilliantly animated as the hotel Dromio. He endures most of the physical comedy and provides a lot of the laughs as he tries to work out exactly what’s going on.
His eventual meeting with his twin is delightfully choreographed and a treat to watch.
Mansfield provides more silliness when he swaps his wise-guy pinstripes for a more elaborate costume as the hopelessly inept cabaret magician, Doctor Pinch.
And Paul Sloss as camp goldsmith and jeweller, Angelo, adds to the mayhem with frequent bouts of high-pitched hysteria. It is all wonderfully daft and with a delicious twist at the end.
The Comedy of Errors runs at Gray’s Inn Hall until September 1.
Madcap and delightfully silly, Antic Disposition’s The Comedy of Errors references a golden age of Hollywood – and the small screen – with riotous results.