Magazine article The Spectator

Theatre Geometry Lesson

Magazine article The Spectator

Theatre Geometry Lesson

Article excerpt

The Comedy of Errors Olivier, in rep until 1 April Aladdin Lyric, Hammersmith, until 31 December It's the usual old muddle. You take a Shakespeare classic and you time-travel it to an alien century, usually the present one, which has no connection with its historic setting.

The plan, we're always told, is to generate that supremely irrelevant attribute, 'relevance'.

Director Dominic Cooke has fast-forwarded The Comedy of Errors to modern London and I have to confess it works extremely well. For once, it's OK to have wrong-era costumes and juggled chronologies and a visual setting that's out of whack with the literary context because Cooke is simply mimicking Shakespeare. The Bard nicked a Roman favourite, The Menaechmi of Plautus, and dolled it up in the culture and lingo of London's red-light district, Southwark. And the two time zones harmonise very neatly.

Which is not to say the play is easy to enjoy. The insane plot, involving two capering sets of identical twins, unfolds like a geometric exercise with a storyline that escalates into ever higher planes of barminess and befuddlement. It takes huge mental efforts to maintain your credulity. Or, to put it another way, you have to remind yourself why the funny thing that just happened was funny. The cast are required to pull off at least 45 outraged comic grimaces apiece.

Lenny Henry, as Antipholus, is well suited to this sort of lightweight knockabout.

Henry can be anything on stage other than serious. When he reaches for gravity he becomes instantly weightless and here he ambles about like a harmlessly lovable honey-monster. (He's less adept at just standing still and not acting while others are speaking their lines, but that's a minor fault. ) Claudie Blakley and Michelle Terry play Adriana and Luciana as a pair of hard-faced Essex slappers. Great stuff. And both of the Dromios (Daniel Poyser and Lucian Msamati) bring a flavour of sorrowful grandeur to their roles. The handling is relentlessly infantile. The biffings and punch-ups are fun to watch but some of the orchestrated mayhem just gets silly. At one point Cooke makes the entire cast chase each other around the Olivier on kids' scooters while the set twirls in the contrary direction. Subtle character comedy, rather than out-andout buffoonery, is his natural terrain. Let's hope he returns to it soon.

Aladdin, at the Lyric Hammersmith, is a panto with a lot more moral content than it realises. …

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